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Our View: Marking ballots for unopposed candidates matters

In every election, we have candidates running unopposed. Like all candidates, blank ovals outlined in red are next to their names.

Certain seats – coroner, assessor, surveyor – are often unopposed. Other seats are, too. Both La Plata and Montezuma counties have unopposed clerk and recorder seats; in La Plata an unopposed sheriff; in Montezuma an unopposed county commissioner. We – along with candidates – know they have these jobs in the bag.

So do you complete the oval or skip ahead to a competitive race, saving your precious time, energy and ink?

Name recognition has something to do with it. If we know and like a candidate, we’re more likely to go for it, completing the oval to the max with not a hair of white space between the outline and ink.

We press hard, showing our seriousness. Because no one wants to be that person whose ballot mucks up the works when the machine can’t read it. We make up for those who colored too lightly. Those same folks who completed ovals – or circles or even boxes – on standardized tests so faintly, they did not receive credit for correct answers.

If we haven’t interacted with a candidate, such as a judge, we skip it. And if we don’t like an unopposed candidate, we snub. We leave the oval undone. Vulnerable. Wind could blow through it.

Inking that oval matters – it makes a statement. As long as it’s blue or black ink, mind you.

La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee is running unopposed for reelection. “If (voters are) happy and supportive of the work I’m doing, it’s a good indication when they complete the oval,” Lee said. It means “they’d like to see me continue in this position.”

Validation, along with some weight, comes with that oval.

Based on completed ovals on primary ballots, we can’t identify any predictors. Unopposed Democratic and Republican candidates would go on to represent in the midterms. So what’s the point of making that extra effort?

Beyond support for candidates, those numbers do matter.

Lee said in 2018, she received 20,714 votes. At the time, she ran as a Republican. This midterm race, she’s registered unaffiliated, running as an independent. The formula to get on the ballot is to acquire enough signatures, which is 2% of the total number of votes cast in the previous election. In this case, it was 415. No matter that she ran unopposed, the formula stays the same.

Again, the word “total” is key. La Plata candidate for county commissioner Jack Turner is an independent. With a total of 27,747 votes cast in the last race with multiple candidates, Turner had to land that 2% and come up with 555 signatures.

Still, on blustery Saturdays, when opposed candidates are knocking on doors, those running unopposed can stay home, warm and cozy, with a steaming mug of cocoa. At least once, we’d like an unopposed candidate to ring our doorbells and ask us to complete an oval. We’re imagining the conversation.

Candidate: “Hello. I’m here to ask for your vote.”

Us: “But you’re running unopposed. You already have the gig.”

Candidate: “Yes, but will you complete the oval?”

Us: “Why? What if the global supply chain chokes again, and there’s a run on pens and ink?”

Kidding aside, any vote matters. Completing the oval is a way to say thank you to candidates for putting themselves out there. Even if it’s as coroner. Always a little odd that it’s an elected position. Now, a debate between opposed coroners would be something new. Wouldn’t want to miss that.

Anyway, we can color that oval so dark, the sun won’t shine through.