What does non-partisan mean? The term can apply to a few different situations. First, a political candidate or organization may be non-partisan if they are not affiliated with any one political party. “Independent” is often a synonym for non-partisan in this case. Second, an election can be non-partisan if the candidates on the ballot do not run according to party lines.
Non-partisan elections occur frequently at the local level of government, with school board elections being some of the most common. What is the impact of these non-partisan elections, and should more American elections be non-partisan? This guide will explore the advantages and disadvantages of non-partisan voting, along with the importance of political independence.
The outcomes of many municipal elections are determined by two major factors in unbiased elections. These factors in electoral competition are the voting rate of a candidate’s constituency and the inclusion or non-inclusion of party names on ballots. In an election with non-partisan voting, the political party affiliation of a candidate for office is included on the ballot.
In a non-partisan election, however, no party affiliation is indicated. Upwards of three-quarters of local elections across the United States today are non-partisan elections. Most of the participants have acquired numerous candidate endorsements in non-partisan races.
Races that involve candidates for offices in municipal elections and county offices in U.S. states are typically nonpartisan and promote voter turnout. The majority of elections for school board members and judges are also nonpartisan. The state of Nebraska proclaims itself to be the sole state in the country that has a completely nonpartisan legislature. Twenty-three out of the 30 most populated cities across the United States today hold nonpartisan elections.
In the 1920s, there was a nationwide movement toward efficiency and economic management in the middle-class business world. This movement strove to view government in business terms while weakening the control and influence of political parties. This activity was driven by a strong dislike for the “low morals” then reported to be common in political parties and public office. It was also significantly affected by the general success of the corporate structure and power in industry.
Elections minus any party labels and campaign strategy were widely adopted due to this movement in the business world. They also encouraged voter turnout and enthusiasm. Elections for judgeships were among the first to adopt non-partisan status in electoral competition. This was due to the idea that judges are meant to be neutral, not political, as judicial referees. Subsequently, numerous municipal and county elections for executive and legislative officials in public office were structured as non-partisan.
Primary aspects and major features of non-partisan voting include the following:
Promoting the Public Interest. In elections with non-partisan candidates or in a non-partisan primary race, major public interests and concerns have the greatest focus and impact. Party issues in grassroots politics, the candidates’ personalities and individual agendas are not addressed or promoted as they commonly are in partisan elections. In non-partisan elections, a wider, more inclusive perspective of issues and their proposed resolutions are emphasized than in partisan balloting. In addition, the majority of participants have attained many candidate endorsements in non-partisan races. These well-qualified candidates encourage good voter participation in local politics.
Disregarding Political Party Ideologies. In non-partisan races for public office, no credibility or importance is given to party ideologies, influences, affiliations, labels or partisan campaign strategy. The major focus in grassroots politics is on a careful and thorough examination of facts, local issues, and the current needs of communities. Ideally, partisan leanings are not considered, and decisions are based on the collective concerns and needs of the locality and residents.
Embracing Diversity. Non-partisan structures for electing officials include productive collaboration between people with diverse viewpoints and political platforms. Complicated aspects of important issues in municipal elections are carefully addressed in forming policies. The collective wisdom of candidates with varying ideas and views is valued rather than the political party agendas that partisan elections promote.
Addressing the Changing Needs of Communities. Non-partisan elections allow for candidates’ attention and response to the local community’s changing needs and campaign strategy. They also encourage a focus on voter choice in non-partisan races. While partisan political races often place emphasis on party agenda, non-partisan elections address current communal problems and collective interests.
Valuing Each Candidate’s Qualifications. Partisan elections and non-partisan election rules often give rapt attention and importance to party-directed governance of localities. Yet, nonpartisan political races focus strongly on the individual candidate’s qualifications and governing abilities along with the impact of non-partisan ballots. This enables voters in municipal elections to be well-informed and choose elected officials with confidence. Candidates with excellent credentials promote high-quality non-partisan election results.
The true value and impact of neutrality and inclusivity are evident and effective in non-partisan politics and non-partisan election rules. Neutrality in the electoral process allows for comprehensive thought and reflection prior to important decision-making and voter choice in non-partisan races. It also encourages excellent non-partisan election results.
Effective ideas and plans for action are determined free of political biases, brands, and platforms, creating the important impact of non-partisan ballots. A wide range of ideas and modes of thought are accepted and considered, minus the restrictions and limitations of political party affiliations and agendas. These two important qualities also promote higher volumes of voter registration before a non-partisan primary. This leads to regular voter participation in local politics.
Supporters of non-partisan voting give convincing reasons in favor of their enthusiasm for this type of election and campaign strategy, including the following:
A candidate's political affiliation is not important to providing constituents with good policies and services, especially during a non-partisan primary that affects local decision-making.
When elections are non-partisan, there is higher voter registration and more willing collaboration among local candidates and elected officials from different political parties.
Political neutrality and accurate community representation in elections lead to better, unemotional reasoning and decisions among newly elected officials.
When a wider range of thought and ideology, along with the promotion of political independence, is allowed during elections, policies with more benefits for all voters are generally instated by winners.
Diversity of thought concerning the resolution of important community issues in local governance typically results from non-partisan voting rather than from partisan races.
Immediate local problems are more easily focused upon in non-partisan races that do not involve party ideologies in the electoral process.
Voters in non-partisan races can give more attention to individual candidates’ capabilities and qualifications for excelling as government officials.
Voters who favor partisan elections often give the following reasons for their preferences and their lack of trust in political independence:
Some voters become confused without the presence of each local candidate's political affiliation on ballots in elections that concern local government decision-making. They may lack voter education on non-partisan elections.
Party labels often encourage voter registration and help voters to be reminded of specific issues that different candidates are focused on in the electoral process and civic responsibility.
In elections without ballots showing party labels, voters may resort to casting votes according to the ethnicity of candidates’ names or based on a single issue.
In non-partisan voting, elected candidates often represent the interests of the upper economic strata of residents rather than the general population. Accurate community representation may be lost. This points out the need for voter education on non-partisan elections to address this issue.
Non-partisan political systems do not generally organize their workers to attract voters to the polls on election days. In addition, they often do not offer help to voters who need assistance accessing voting precincts and the voting system. These issues can create challenges in non-partisan campaigns.
Many voters in local community elections today strongly believe that non-partisan balloting at the local level helps ensure quality services. Local residents in communities throughout the U.S. often repeat the frequently heard statement, “There is no partisan way to pick up the garbage.” They understand the great value and benefits of non-partisan government.
Many voters now say that they have seen evidence in their municipal governments that non-partisan elections and non-partisan candidates promote greater cooperation among elected officials. These community residents see local candidates and non-partisan politics in the electoral process as more supportive of serious local issues than partisan politics.
They see the structure and activity of non-partisan political thought, elections, and local governance as advantageous for resolving pressing community problems and concerns. Serious issues and civic engagement are often addressed more efficiently and effectively by local officials who won their positions in non-partisan races with a progressive voting system.
Issues that concern the community and local governance most are frequently resolved quickly and completely following non-partisan voting. Many citizens have grown tired and disillusioned by partisan politics. They desire to have local government officials who can discern what is best for ensuring a better quality of daily life for them and their families, friends, and neighbors.
Ready to get involved? First, take time to keep learning about the impact of non-partisan elections. As a concerned resident and voter in your local community elections, take time to learn about the perils of partisan politics and elections. Discover how partisan biases can influence important decision-making and inhibit community improvements.
Second, stay up to date on the democracy reform movement by signing up for Good Party’s weekly newsletter, joining our Discord server, or booking a meeting to see how you can volunteer and make an impact. There are plenty of opportunities for you to support non-partisan candidates and make a difference in your community!