No contested races? Call off the election?

Politics » Legislators could let cities cancel balloting for unopposed candidates.
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The election was decided long before Monroe Mayor R. Kirt Nilsson's name ever appeared on last year's ballot.

He and three City Council hopefuls were sure to win. No other candidates ran.

And, yet, the central Utah city of 1,900 residents had to spend about $3,300 to hold an election.

"Nothing was determined [in the voting]," remarked Recorder Emalee Curtis. "The candidates were elected, but they were uncontested."

Utah legislators considered a change Wednesday that would allow cities to forgo balloting for candidates who face no opposition a month before the general election.

It's a move that officials hope will save time and money on races that essentially are decided long before voters cast ballots.

"It is really a cost issue for some of these smaller municipalities," said Mark Thomas, office administrator for the Lieutenant Governor's Office. "There are costs involved with running an election, whether there are contested races on the ballot or not."

In Monroe, for instance, Curtis still had to arrange for voting machines, conduct early balloting and staff polling locations -- even though none of it would change the election's outcome.

When there are no challenged races, Thomas told the Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee on Wednesday, "it really begs the question: Should there be an election?"

And should unopposed candidates have their names on the ballot in cities that already are holding elections because of ballot initiatives or other challenged races? That's another question legislators will have to decide.

The interim committee called for a bill to be drafted for the upcoming 2011 session.

As for write-in candidates? State law requires those challengers -- in a city race -- to file a declaration of candidacy at least 30 days before a general election. The legislation would not affect those campaigns.

It could affect town races, however, where write-in candidates don't have to file beforehand. Those rules would have to change.

The electoral reform resonates with Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, who said it makes sense for counties such as Sevier, Wayne, Piute and Sanpete that so frequently face uncontested elections.

However, Okerlund suggested a second option: Let people vote by mail for lone candidates. It would save money, but still allow those candidates be "elected."