Get involved in your election process

Elections are always an interesting time for communities — or nations for that matter. It can be just as interesting for journalists, who are tasked with tracking down and following candidates, reporting on their backgrounds and plans, as well as their activities on the campaign trail.

It wasn’t that long ago, of course, that we wrapped up a national election, with voters selecting members of Congress, as well as some state-level officials and local representatives. It will be another two years before the presidential election, although word of some early campaiging has begun to leak out.

Locally, we have about another month before the filing period begins for Weirton’s municipal election. Filing will be held through the city clerk’s office from Jan. 14 to Jan. 26. The city’s primary election will be held April 2, with the general election set for June. 11.

That certainly is a condensed election schedule, and it goes fast.

A couple of months ago, the city’s incumbent mayor, Harold Miller, sat down with me to announce his plans to seek re-election. I know there are some things he still would like to do. However, I’ve also heard some rumblings about possible challengers for the office.

A couple members of council also have expressed interest in keeping their seats.

We won’t know for certain who will be stepping up to the plate until the filing period has concluded and the applications have been turned in.

Some in the public have been talking about the election for another reason.

In recent months, council passed legislation enacting a pay raise for the city’s mayor and councilmembers. The mayor’s pay will go from $4,500 to $11,000, while each council member will go from $2,700 to $7,500. Keep in mind, this will go into effect for the next city administration, which begins July 1. Council cannot vote itself a pay raise, so the only way any current members will see the increase is if they get re-elected.

I’m not going to get into whether the pay raises are warranted. But, in discussing the proposal, a similar theme kept cropping up.

The thought was that, perhaps if a bigger paycheck was available, more individuals would take an interest in seeking these offices.

Whether more money is involved or not, I would encourage more people to consider running for elected office. For that matter, I encourage more people to find ways to get involved in their communities.

In the last couple of elections, there were races where only one person was registered. Most of those offices on the ballot only had two names listed, meaning they both automatically made it through the primary election.

While that may make my job a little easier, that doesn’t really give residents much of a choice. Voters should have options when it comes to selecting who will represent them.

On top of that, elections cost money. The city currently is working to contract voting machines, not to mention the various advertising requirements and other mandated steps, training poll workers, setting up polling locations, providing voting materials, etc. It’s thousands of dollars — taxpayer dollars — that go into putting together elections. When only two people are on a ballot, and they automatically move on to the general election, it pretty much makes the primary election pointless and a waste of money. That’s why some area communities have passed legislation stating their primary election will be canceled if no more than two candidates register for each race.

There is a lot going on, and there could be even more with a wider sharing of ideas within our communities. An election is a perfect opportunity for such sharing to take place. There are debates and “meet the candidate” events — assuming a local group steps up to plan them — providing a venue for residents to hear directly from those seeking to lead the city.

If we want an active and vibrant community, we need to have people stepping up. I encourage residents — no matter your age — to get involved, and if holding public office appeals to you, do your research to see what is involved. Sign up. Get ready for the campaign.

It’s not an easy situation to be in, but if you are serious about doing something to benefit your community, you may find it a rewarding experience.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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