New hope in the numbers

Published 8:58 pm Friday, October 1, 2010

Yesterday, the Suffolk News-Herald kicked off the main press of its 2010 election coverage with a quick biography of the eight candidates running for four seats on the Suffolk City Council. A similar piece — this one covering the eight people who are campaigning for election to four School Board positions — appears on Page 1A of today’s paper.

Sixteen candidates for a total of eight elected positions. Throw in a contested House of Representatives race, and you’ve got 18 people interested in representing their fellow citizens in elected office — 19 if you count a woman in the Chuckatuck Borough whose public announcement that she doesn’t intend to seek election came too late for her name to be removed from the ballot. That’s quite a group, one that will require engaged voters to know enough about six different candidates to make choices in three different races.

One good indicator of a strong democracy is voter turnout. During the presidential election of 2008, nearly 75 percent of registered voters in Suffolk cast their votes. It was an unprecedented level of participation that reflected the high levels of enthusiasm that people had for the candidate who would become the first African-American president, as well as serious disenchantment with the previous administration. Commentators and others who follow American elections in part to gauge the health of the nation’s governing structure were encouraged by the turnout.

No less encouraging a sign, at least at the local level, is the high level of interest in local elected service. Clearly the fact that every local office up for election this year features competition is a sign that at least some Suffolk citizens are disenchanted with their representation on local boards and councils. The fact that they can vent those frustrations by putting their own ideas on the line as candidates is the great promise of democracy. The fact that they feel confident enough to actually do so is evidence that there is still plenty of hope left for the democratic process.