Our Opinion: Throw your hat into the ring for city, town boards

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Before it became a cliché, it was an apt metaphor, and before that, a literal means of challenging a top-ranked boxer to a bout.

In the early 19th century, contenders would indeed throw their hats into the ring. Today, the phrase is used almost exclusively to describe the process of seeking elected office.

We need more Wilson County residents to make that figurative hat toss and answer the call to public service. Championship belts shouldn’t be won by forfeit, and neither should city and town council seats.

The two-week candidate filing period for municipal elections began a week ago today and continues until noon on Friday, July 19. If you live in the city of Wilson or in one of the county’s small towns, you have an opportunity to put your name forward for consideration.

There are 28 jobs to fill, and voters will comprise the selection committee.

Three seats on the Wilson City Council — Districts 1, 2 and 4 — are up for grabs, along with the Wilson mayor’s gavel. The cost to file is $114 for the mayor’s seat and $54 for city council.

In Elm City and Black Creek, the mayorship and all five commissioner seats for each town will be on the ballot. For all towns, the filing fee is $10 for mayoral hopefuls and $5 for commissioner candidates.

Lucama has two commissioner seats open, Saratoga will elect a mayor and all three commissioners, Sims will choose a mayor and two commissioners and Stantonsburg’s ballot will list candidates for mayor and two town council seats.

We’d like to see, at minimum, two candidates for every office. That isn’t a knock on any of our incumbents who have filed or who plan to seek re-election, it’s simply an acknowledgment that voters in a representative democracy deserve choices.

When candidates run unopposed, victory is virtually guaranteed. Human nature tells us that politicians without opponents aren’t likely to spend a lot of time campaigning and won’t be as responsive to constituents’ concerns as they would be if someone else was vying for the same job.

Competition puts voters in the driver’s seat. In order to be successful, candidates have to pound the pavement, share their views on local issues and listen to the people who will ultimately decide their fate at the ballot box.

In the 2016 general election, 42% of N.C. General Assembly hopefuls faced no opposition. We can largely blame that on gerrymandered districts that heavily favor either of the two major parties. In Wilson County’s municipal elections, which are nonpartisan, would-be contenders have no such excuse to stay out of the running.

You can belong to any party — North Carolina currently recognizes Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens and Constitution Party members — or an unaffiliated voter. You can be a young professional, a middle-aged parent, a senior citizen, a retiree. Men and women of all backgrounds, races and stages of life can answer the call to serve.

The Wilson Times does not endorse candidates for public office, but we encourage all comers to step up to the proverbial plate.

Competitive races are a win for everyone involved. Incumbents who seek to retain their seats want a mandate and a vote of confidence from those they represent. A lack of opposition deprives them of that, and comedian John Oliver describes the resulting hollow victories as “defeating the very concept of nothing.”

Incumbents need challengers.

Voters need choices.

And if you have ideas to help make your community a better place to live, work and play, Wilson County needs you on the ballot.

This editorial is adapted from a previous version that was published in July 2017.