Michael Tavoliero: Is it time to move to partisan municipal elections?



One of the more difficult topics to capture the public’s interest in is how certain political taboos originated. I’m writing about nonpartisan municipal elections in the United States, and how and why they developed.

This topic is like the debate in the Sean Connery movie, “The Name of The Rose.” Set in the early 14th Century, Franciscan William of Baskerville, played by Connery, and his Benedictine novice travel to a monastery in northern Italy to participate in a major ecclesiastical debate at the time: Did Jesus and the Disciples own their own clothes? 

A 21st Century reply might be, “Who cares?”

But here’s today’s question: Has our current nonpartisan municipal elections become a conduit for creating a country with a national debt headed to $50 trillion, the worse outcomes in public education, and the most corrupt redistribution of our tax dollars in the history of the world? 

How did this all begin?

It started toward the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century. The reason for nonpartisanship in municipal elections was to promote focus on community-specific issues, rather than national party politics. The thought was, if you were an “R” or a “D,” you were more likely to be concerned with national party politics than wanting to fix potholes or fight local crime.

In the turn of the 20th Century, nonpartisan elections were marketed as a way to develop strong local governance without the domination of city politics promoted by the urban-centric party machines. This was a progressive model for utopian political equity.

As a result, nonpartisan municipal elections were brought firmly about by the Progressives’ insistence that most of the late 19th and early 20th Century cities faced issues of corruption by the very political machines that controlled local government, through favoritism and crooked patronage.

This brought us the current era of the industrialization of municipal entities: Large urban centers controlled by small groups of people managing the redistribution of local tax dollars, which subsequently control the states in which these cities reside. Today, examples abound with New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

In the early 1900s, there was a mix of trust and skepticism in local government, just like there is now. The Progressive Era (late 19th to early 20th century) saw efforts to address issues such as corruption, inequality, and the influence of powerful interests by offering remedies such as nonpartisan local elections. More government regulations were marketed to the public to fix this, and the voters bought it.

The remedy brought with it several changes to how local government was managed in America. It helped to create the advent of professional municipal management. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that professional municipal management has done anything favorable to municipal efficiencies and effectiveness. Such management has evolved with the focus on employment security for municipal employees, rather than municipal services to the public. 

In part, this presented a foothold for local identity to be managed by small groups of councils or assemblies in huge populations rather than small more efficient local governance models managed by active public involvement. 

Nonpartisan elections left voters with the inability to discover candidate political ideologies at a glance of a letter after each candidate’s name. That opened the door to large, non-party organizations promoting candidates loyal to their organizations. It reduced civic engagement as respective political parties did not have the seat at the table of the discussion of local challenges and ideas. This further fostered voter disillusionment, resulting in inhibited competition, choice, and apathy. 

It is critical at this point of our discussion to note that local government, then and now, controls the most useful tool for political change: public education. What have non-partisan municipal elections done for American education?

The advent of nonpartisan municipal elections brought promises of improved efficiencies and professionalism to local government. These promises promoted the American values of localism, which addressed the unique needs of the respective communities. The result of these promises underdelivered meaningful features and benefits to local communities and instead created an hegemony in power and control.

The Municipality of Anchorage is one example that showcases hegemony.

Have nonpartisan municipal elections improved our American model? Many would still argue against the changing the status quo, but with over 125 years of experience, perhaps we might now want to consider the alternative: Partisan municipal elections.

Michael Tavoliero is a senior contributor at Must Read Alaska.


  1. It is time for Eagle River and Chugiak to go our own way. Past time for individual personal accountability. Return to closed primary elections and to be rid of RCV. Time to limit absentee/mail in voting to by request only. Time to purge voter rolls and start over with citizen and physical residence verification. There is a lot to recover.

  2. Michael, if one thing is clear, we at the municipal level have already moved to partisan elections. The silent majority simply missed this as the liberal progressives took control. Poor voter turnout is the root cause. Until the pinch hurts so bad it is unbearable, the silent majority will remain silent.

  3. Whether the election model being used is partisan or non partisan in municipalities, a pact of leaders who don’t put God first, who don’t build their life in God’s word, who don’t read and meditate on His Word daily, they will fall in every trap and pit fall laid out for each of us.
    The historic photos and biographies of leaders during the 1950s-1990s they looked just as human as us today. If they weren’t keep closer to God and mediating and incorporating God’s Word into their life they and their leadership would reflect corruption, death, racism, cronyism, stinginess too. Just by looking at the picture and reading some history about leaders during a time when there was partisan approach to elections why people during that time would distrust their leaders. Their partisan local leaders more likely were a Christian in name-only because that’s the way they grew up or they weren’t even a Christian.

    • Jen, Recent religious poll of the 50 states show Alaskans now are 57% “nones”. Religious die hards live in North and South Dakotas. Belief in supernaturals are rapidly declining.

  4. Thanks for pointing out the situation that has evolved explaining the chaos within the municipality of Anchorage.
    There has to be some sort of explanation for the complete failure of public education given the amount of tax dollars spent ASD should be at the top of proficiency instead of treading water at the bottom of the barrel.

  5. they should pass a qualifying US Constitutional test with a bylaw charter quiz. Just preparing for it would save us $ in darting in and out of illegal, unconstitutional rabbit trails. It is Our duty to maintain the Republic form of government.

  6. The Marines should voluntarily draw up a pre-qualified test to pass before “becoming” an announced candidate.

  7. Yes it is! If you are to be trusted, you need to speak truth and be transparent in your actions. If you choose not to do that, then you are a liar and should be treated as such.

  8. They take an oath to secure the unalienable rights of Americans from enemies inside and outside our borders and Defend the US Constitution without equivocating or mental reservation. That is all they are delegated authority to do. Is that what they are doing? Or something more modern and global and creative per se.

  9. Certainly some good points but we need less partisanship at all levels of government, not more. The de facto “two-party system” is far more responsible for getting us tens of trillions of dollars in debt. What we need to do is educate citizens on how important their local elections are and perhaps we can get voter turnout above 30%.

  10. What must first be addressed is our local election process in general. Still a lot of people choosing not to bother at all since nothing is being done to clean up dirty rolls, where unqualified voters who have moved are surprised to find out that someone has been voting in their place. And to take a signature as proof of identity by poorly qualified people is very subjective at the least. Conveniently, even the ballots contracted by to an out of state vendor immune to state law even though the capability exists locally. Not to mention lack of chain of custody for the actual ballots to the location they are validated by people appointed by the very people who have a special interest in the outcome. My impression is that we have one of the dirtiest election systems in the world. Have been told that the Lt. Governor can not interfere with Anchorage elections because of our charter. The only way that Chugiak/Eagle River can get out of this system seems to be to separate from the municipality, but that will be a battle, more so that than the previous attempt. The solution for now seems to be at state level. A charter should not not be a license to break state or federal laws. It is pretty lame to allow such corruption in the largest population center of the state. Or maybe Anchorage is not really part of our state, more like a reservation that makes its own rules by a council (or assembly). An assembly who sets their own rules for election and is in complete control of vote counting. Still believe that if the public could be convinced to vote in great numbers, we could overwhelm the crooked system but how to make this happen is way beyond my simple mind. Took truck parades to get people out to vote in a conservative Mayor, who sits in his office hogtied by the corrupt assembly. Thanks for consideration of my perspective.

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