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Our Views: Slim ballot? Vote anyway
Strong turnout could spur more candidates in future
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We have to admit, as elections go, this one isn't exactly a talker.

There are but a handful of contested races on the Nov. 6 ballot in Gainesville and other towns in and around Hall County. Most races turned out to be incumbents, and in a few cases newcomers, running unopposed for office.

That means as long as the candidate shows up to vote for his or herself, and maybe the spouse, Aunt Lucy, Uncle Carl and a few friends and neighbors join in, it's a lock.

It's a pity that we have too few people willing to run for local office these days, for whatever reasons. Our long-term hope is that more community leaders will see this void as a disturbing trend and be willing to serve the public interest in the future.

Next year's election likely will draw more excitement and a huge turnout. Not only will we be selecting leaders for the state legislature, but also voting for U.S. Senator, House of Representatives and the biggie, a new president. The race for the latter already is heating up, and the debate will be reaching its fever pitch by this time next year.

So rather than continue to harp on our skimpy, bare bones ballot, let's look at the positive reasons those who qualify should get out to vote on Nov. 6, or during the early voting period starting Monday. Even if there are but a few choices to be made, they are important ones and we want everyone who can to make the effort.

City council seats directly affect our lives in many ways, whether you live in Gainesville, Flowery Branch, Clermont, Lula or elsewhere. These are the officials who have a say in zoning issues, such as whether a church, a school or a big-box retailer is going to move into that vacant lot down the street.

They control quality-of-life issues like water, sewer, parks, traffic, all the day-to-day concerns that have an impact on us all.

What's more, when you have a problem, city council members are your neighbors and accessible to your needs and concerns. Try getting the president or your senator on the phone when you want to bend their ears.

In Gainesville, three incumbents - Ruth Bruner, Bob Hamrick and Myrtle Figueras - are running unopposed. All three are respected public servants who serve the city well. We hope that next time they run, someone will take them on if only to engage them in a valuable debate about the city's future.

Gainesville does have a contested seat on the school board, with Sammy Smith facing Eric Oliver for the seat vacated by the retiring Frank Harben. Board members have a huge say in how our schools are run, now and in the future. We urge you to learn about these candidates and choose wisely.

Two other board seats are up as well, with newcomer Maria Calkins unopposed in seeking the seat held by retiring chairwoman Lee Highsmith, and incumbent Willie Mitchell uncontested as well.

Flowery Branch has two contested council races and Clermont has four candidates seeking to earn three open spots. There is one contested council race in Hoschton. All are worth your attention if you live in these towns.

Sadly, Oakwood, Braselton and Lula offer no choices this fall, only a slate of unopposed incumbents. However competent they all may be, the democratic process is somewhat diluted when voters have no other options on their ballots.

So why go vote when there are few contested races? For one thing, voter turnout is an indication of civic involvement, and a source of community pride. If voters in these towns turn out when the races are less than dazzling, imagine how strong the numbers will be next year and beyond.

In fact, it may be a chicken-and-egg proposition: If voters take the time to cast a ballot despite the paucity of choices, more prospective leaders might decide to run for office and serve a town with such an involved citizenry.

What we don't want to see are candidates elected by only a handful of voters in any town, even if there are no other options on the ballot. Such apathy may only get worse and lead to more uncontested races down the road.

On today's site, we offer profiles of the candidates in each contested race along with the information you need when you go to the polls. We hope residents of these cities will take the time to do so, even if the ballots don't offer a full slate of choices in every race. Changing that trend could begin with all of us deciding to make a difference.

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