A screenshot from Siren, a film co-written, produced, and starring Michele Fiore.

Think Municipal Elections Don’t Matter? Think Again

Filing has closed for the local municipal elections—although you may not have noticed. Traditionally, turnout in municipal elections is putrid. Why? They come along in springtime, when our fancy turns to more important matters like baseball. They are nonpartisan, bipartisan and altogether unpartisan, or at least maintain the appearance of being so. But here are a few things about 2017’s round that should draw your interest …

In Las Vegas City Council Ward 4, Stavros Anthony, a longtime Republican, drew three challengers. One of them, Sean Lyttle, lost an assembly bid last year as a Democrat. In Ward 6, Kelli Ross, the wife of term-limited incumbent Steve Ross, has a Democratic background; her opponents include Michele Fiore, R-Bundyland, and Chris Garvey, a school district trustee who is therefore open to support/attack from both parties for any number of reasons having to do with how they feel about education at any given moment. Chances are the two major parties will make their presence felt.

Ward 2 could be similar, whatever the politics of the challengers. Incumbent Bob Beers was one of the more conservative members of the legislature before running for the Las Vegas City Council. Democrats might target him just for the sake of doing so, although their number includes Beers challenger Steve Seroka, who had a long career in the military and even worked at the Metro Chamber of Commerce. Another opponent, Christina Roush, is involved in real estate investments, which could be an issue, too. Beers has been supporting developments in Queensridge that local residents have been fighting. It will be interesting to see whether money flows to any challenger in particular.

All of these elections are important. They affect our lives directly—sometimes more directly than who we elect president or senator or governor …

Historically, North Las Vegas was where you looked for bare-knuckled brawling in municipal elections. It might still be true.

Former assemblyman and county commissioner Tom Collins reportedly was going to challenge Mayor John Lee, but he instead decided to take on Councilwoman Anita Wood in Ward 3. So will Will Crespo, a retired North Las Vegas police lieutenant. All of that makes Ward 3 the race to watch. Collins has been popular with those in the rural parts of the district, and the police union used to wield ample power in local elections. Whether any of that will matter this time depends on the mood of North Las Vegas voters and Wood’s record.

Henderson’s mayor, Andy Hafen, is term-limited. Debra March, the front-runner to replace him, is already on the city council and can’t serve more than two terms. Rick Workman, who challenged Hafen in his last roundup and is battling March this time, has been fighting to enforce term limits more stringently. That makes turnout all the more important, and important to watch. If Henderson voters are angry at government officials for staying around too long and being too close-knit, they might want to unload March and incumbent councilman John Marz. If they feel their city is humming along like a well-oiled machine (political or otherwise), they would be less likely to want change.

All of these elections are important. They affect our lives directly—sometimes more directly than who we elect president or senator or governor, when you consider local issues like parks and roads, and how they serve on various boards that affect everything from tourism to transportation. But municipal election turnout often can run in the teens; in non-presidential years, fewer than half of the voters usually show up.

Why not hold municipal elections in the same years as state elections, which might boost turnout for all involved? City concerns could get lost in the noise of state and national issues, but the low interest in voting suggests they’re already lost. It might just force legislative and even statewide candidates to address more local subjects, to their benefit and ours. We tend to think the higher a politician rises, the less interest they have in individual constituents. More of those constituents, making clear what matters most to them, sounds like a pretty good idea.

Another logical reason to do it: The stupidity of term limits has prompted politicos who are still popular to seek different offices—and as long as term limits survive, this will continue. Our survival depends on knowledgeable participation—by people who want to serve, and voters who want to be served.

Michael Green is an associate professor of history at UNLV.