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What has been lost

Aug 26, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

Court decisions supposedly meant to improve local elections have worsened them

Thanks to the court-ordered "districizing" of just about everything on the primary election ballot, one of the most exciting times to be a civic-minded citizen in Fremont County has become something to yawn about.

If you were one of the relatively few who bothered to vote in Tuesday's primary election, what a dull ballot you probably faced. Most voters had almost nothing that required making a choice. Races either were uncontested or simply weren't on the ballot at all.

What a terrible change this is from the days, just a coupe of elections back, when everyone got to vote on every county commission race. This year, nearly half the county won't get to vote on a commission race at all. Their districts aren't up for a vote this year.

It's been 20 years now since the Wyoming Legislature's elections were taken out of the hands of voters at large and pigeon-holed into new districts that have lessened voter interest tremendously because they have lessened voter participation. Incumbents enjoy overwhelming advantages, so much so that a primary election challenge is a very rare thing -- and a two-party contest in Wyoming borders on the unheard of in many counties.

We can be thankful that our county still has the political spark to have generated a bona fide primary election challenge in one House race, and that the retirement of a longtime lawmaker led to that rarest of things -- a primary contest in both parties; for the same seat.

That is a good thing for the process of democracy. What's not so good for the democratic process is that this circumstance in Fremont County is so conspicuous by virtue of its rarity.

Once upon a time our ballot was filled with lively, competitive races that offered real choices to lots of voters.

Those circumstances have been removed by the courts in most of out county and state. Representative government is the worse for it. It's unfortunate that the very thing that ought to reinforce the power of democracy -- the primary election -- demonstrates what has been lost in recent years.

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