Unchallenged incumbents in Nov. 3 North Georgia city elections don't mind the lack of competition, but one Northwest Georgia political scientist says having too many unopposed races is bad for democracy.
"Democracy was never designed to operate like this," said Ken Ellinger, an associate professor of political science at Dalton State College. "Competition brings out a lot of discussions about the issues."
There won't be any municipal contests on the ballot in Rossville, Ringgold, Tunnel Hill and Dalton because current officials are seeking new terms and no one qualified to challenged them. In some other cities, including Summerville and Trenton, some races are already over because only the incumbent qualified or the incumbent did not seek re-election and only one person qualified for the seat.
Depending on whom you talk to, the lack of opponents is either a sign that residents are happy with the current leadership or that potential challengers simply don't care to run for office themselves.
"One or the other," said Nathan Bain, who will be sworn in for his third term as a Rossville councilman in January without having to campaign. "I like to think it's because I'm doing a good job."
In 2007, 56 percent of Georgia municipal officials who ran for re-election ran unopposed, compared to 50 percent in 2005 and 56 percent in 2003, according to data from the Georgia Municipal Association.
"I think it's definitely more apathy than contentedness," Dr. Ellinger said.
He attributed the lack of candidates to a rampant anti-government feeling in the region that may have increased recently with talk of health care reform.
"Everybody wants to complain but the vast, vast majority of complainers would never become part of the government," he said.
Amy Henderson, a spokeswoman for the municipal league, didn't accept Dr. Ellinger's sweeping view.
"I think most places it's (that) people are happy the way things are," she said.
But she said some older elected officials are concerned that there will not be a crop of new leaders waiting to take over when they leave.
That's what happened in the town of Carl in Barrow County, she said. Two incumbents decided not to run this fall so no one qualified for City Council, she said. The town will have to hold a special election later and hope that others step up to fill the void.
"I think for city officials who have served a long time and want to pass the baton, it can be discouraging to them that nobody else wants to take the job," she said.