North Dakota Needs Fewer Elected Offices

In Cass County last night a proposal to elect fewer county officials was heard by the County Commission with no opposition from the public.

Though at least one commissioner was skeptical per this report from Helmut Schmidt.

“I struggle with this, because you know the citizens are smart enough to elect me, but they’re not smart enough to elect an auditor, or a recorder, or whatever? When somebody says that to me, what’s my comeback?” Commissioner Arland Rasmussen asked of state Senator Judy Lee (R-Fargo) who was speaking to the commission in favor of this policy change.

It’s hard to imagine that most voters could pick their local county auditor or recorder out of a police lineup, let alone know enough about their abilities to cast an informed vote.

Lee’s response, which you can read at the link, dealt with the technical expertise some of these elected positions require. Expertise which is not a prerequisite for being on the ballot.

While that’s a good answer, there is a better one for electing fewer people at all levels of state government: Why should we elect anyone who isn’t in charge of making real policy?

Positions like auditor or recorder at the county level, not to mention Tax Commissioner or Insurance Commissioner at the state level, are essentially administrative in nature. The people who hold those offices are in charge with implementing policy set by other elected officials. They perhaps have a degree of latitude in that implementation at times, but direction comes from elsewhere.

That, to my mind, is the best argument for electing people to fill those positions. Rather, they should be appointed. Or simply hired, as the case may be.

Not only do we have little need to hold elections for positions with little or no policy making authority, but doing so can encourage the people who hold those positions to politicize them. To try and make policy despite it being well outside their job description.

Every election cycle voters are faced with a menu of choices, from national and statewide races down to local elections which are often little scrutinized if they’re competitive at all. It’s hard to imagine that most voters could pick their local county auditor or recorder out of a police lineup, let alone know enough about their abilities to cast an informed vote.

Let’s do ourselves a favor and take some of these races off the ballot so the oft-distracted attention of the electorate can be focused on more meaningful campaigns. Not just at the local level, but statewide as well.

The proposal in Cass County will need to be drafted into an ordinance and heard again before commissioners vote.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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