New Castle News

December 7, 2013

John K. Manna: Party labels shouldn’t matter in local contests

John K. Manna
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Anything is possible in elections, but often improbable when it comes to school board races in Pennsylvania.

In the Nov. 5 election, voters went to the polls in six of the eight school districts in Lawrence County and were faced with little choice. That’s because four candidates — the number to be elected — won both party nominations in the May primary election as the result of crossfiling.

This wasn’t unique to Lawrence County. A check with neighboring counties showed the same results for several school districts. My guess is that this trend probably occurs throughout Pennsylvania.

And this happens every two years when school board members are elected.

Some may argue that voters did have a choice. Sure, they could could have written in someone else’s name, but the odds of that person winning would have been almost as great as winning tonight’s Powerball drawing.

The absence of contested races in these districts could have been part of the reason for the dismal voter turnout in November. But when it’s all said and done, it didn’t matter how many voters turned out. If only 10 people had voted, the results would have been the same.

More significant is that the process, in my opinion, discourages some people from running for school board, particularly in areas where one political party dominates.

Does it make any sense to have races on the ballot that have already been decided?

Yes, it’s true that the district attorney, sheriff and register and recorder also won on both ballots in the primary and had no opposition in the general election.

So let’s allow all candidates for county, municipal and school board offices run without party labels in the primary. Despite what some state legislators may think, party politics plays little or no role with these offices.

Not only would this change provide more people the opportunity to run, but would eliminate the need for a general election and would save money.

The state Legislature would have to change the election law for this to take effect. But even though I’ve been harping on this for years, the chances of legislators changing the law are slim.

Removing party labels in local elections would, in essence, diminish any influence state legislators have with local officials. That is, if they have any influence at all.

What other reason could they have for opposing the idea?