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Running for Re-Election, Uncontested

Running for Re-Election, Uncontested

Council Corner: Running for Re-Election, Uncontested

By April Sither, Town Council

Uncontested, again. 

At first it might sound great. For the second time in two years, I will be seeking a seat on the Town Council, and for the second time I am uncontested. Running an uncontested campaign certainly has its upsides. I will not need to fundraise for expensive newspaper ads, I can reuse the limited number of signs I purchased last year, and I will not have to divert my time away from council work in favor of running a full-scale campaign. And while I appreciate the advantages, I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed. 

Sure, occasional uncontested elections can be dismissed as boring. But more seriously, uncontested elections have the potential to start a chain reaction of disengagement. The fact is, when only one candidate appears on the ballot, people are less likely to vote. Understandably, it doesn’t feel as important to get to know the individuals running or what they stand for. While we all know that contentious topics have a way of driving community engagement, I would argue that highly contested elections have a way of driving engagement even in the absence of controversy. It feels good to connect with someone seeking an elected position; it creates a sense of buy-in to cast your vote for someone you believe in. 

I am no stranger to organizing and running campaigns. Some will remember 2018, when I ran for School Board, there were ten candidates vying for three open seats. That year every single open seat on both the School Board and the Town Council was contested. I spent hours each week organizing volunteers, creating and distributing campaign materials, and meeting with constituents. If a friend or acquaintance was willing to host an event in their living room or garage, I was there. It was completely exhausting…and I loved it. Working hard, meeting so many people, making meaningful connections, all of it made me a better elected official. Of course, I felt proud to have earned my seat, but more importantly I felt confident that my decision-making represented the voice of the community. 

A weird thing happens when you tell people you are running uncontested. In my experience people will have varied initial reactions, but the end result is nearly always the same. Announcing that you are uncontested is a conversation killer. People will almost immediately resign to the idea that they are “stuck with me,” for better or worse. Almost no one wants to debate growth, talk about the budget, or ask me my thoughts on contract zone changes. 

Here in Scarborough we are fortunate to have many highly engaged citizen groups. And while I do not worry that they will lose interest in local politics any time soon, I have observed that uncontested elections make people feel as though the local government doesn’t represent their interests. Even if we agree on many issues, the absence of choice creates a disconnect. There is no substitute for healthy debate, and in my experience nothing drives conversation quite like a constituent ready to hold your feet to the fire. So while it is true that the town needs people willing to do the job, I believe that those people are equally in need of meaningful engagement from the citizens. 

As we head into what will be a highly contested state election, take advantage of opportunities to learn more about your local candidates. In spite of the fact that you are “stuck” with those of us on the ballot, make a conscious effort to attend/watch Candidates’ Night on Thursday, October 13th, keep an eye out for the election edition of the town newsletter, and reach out about the issues that matter to you most. We have the choice as a community to proactively avoid the pitfalls of uncontested elections. If you’ve considered running for a seat but something is holding you back, I’d love to hear from you!

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Scarborough Town Council.

  • Election