STERLING, Colo. — Any other election year, Brenda Desormeaux would be putting yard signs up, handing out flyers and meeting with members of the community to talk about her vision for Sterling.
After spending four years on city council, Desormeaux is running to become the next mayor of Sterling.
Along with the mayor’s position, three of the six city council seats are up for grabs in November’s election.
The city’s current mayor is term-limited, as is the councilmember who represents Ward 1.
This time around, though, there’s no guessing on who’s going to win and no need for the campaign work. Desormeaux doesn’t have any competition in the mayor’s race since no one else applied.
In fact, none of the open seats on city council had more than one candidate step up.
“There were no contested races and we do have one seat that we didn’t have anybody apply for that we will need to fill,” Desormeaux said.
The lack of candidates is a stark contrast to cities like Denver, where 13 people are vying for four open school board seats. However, other areas like Wheat Ridge are also experiencing little local involvement.
As a result, the city decided to cancel its local elections this year, meaning everyone who decided to run for city council will automatically win their seat, no matter their policies or qualifications.
“It wasn’t going to serve any point so we just decided we would cancel the election for this year,” Desormeaux said.
Robert Preuhs, the chair of the political science department at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, says there are a lot of reasons people could be choosing not to run this year.
“I think, to some extent, there’s just a general malaise in terms of American politics right now,” Preuhs said. “People are just maybe tired of politics and don’t want to enter into that race. COVID certainly has the potential to have an effect.”
In the past, national politics has remained separate from local elections. More recently, though, Preuhs says some of the polarization has trickled down into smaller elections and could be deterring would-be candidates from running.
There’s also a time commitment to holding local office in order to attend meetings and meet with constituents. Elected officials typically aren't compensated very well in general, either.
Local nonpartisan election also don’t tend to attract major party involvement.
“You really need to have either that partisan organization or community organization or business organization to really tell people, ‘Hey, you know what? You would be a great candidate, you ought to run for office,’” Preuhs said.
Desormeaux believes another factor could be that there is no major issue happening in the community right now that’s inspiring people to get involved.
“I think in our community, if things are going OK, people are just like, ‘Oh they must be doing fine because everything is going OK,’” she said.
There are, however, some contested school board seats in the area as communities still try to grapple with the pandemic.
Once sworn in, Desormeaux says her top priorities are affordable housing and bringing more businesses to the area.
Sterling will save roughly $20,000 by canceling its municipal election this year — money Desormeaux says can be used to support other local programs instead. The tradeoff, though, is less of a voice for voters.
“Without elections at all, we’re really left to a government that’s really up to its own to determine its path,” Preuhs said.
He’s hoping the canceled election and lack of local interest will be a one-off and that more people might try to get involved next election. Desormeaux would also like to see more community involvement in the city’s affairs.
“Those are big things in the community that you really need to be aware of and make sure that you’re putting or doing your part to help your community,” she said.
The city of roughly 12,000 people will see its new city council sworn in during the second week of November.
The council will then put out an application for the Ward 2 seat and has 60 days to fill the position.