Step up, candidates for local office. Filing week for the 2021 election opens on Monday.

Given the ravages of the pandemic from education to the economy and exacerbating the homelessness crisis, it has never been more important for committed and qualified contenders to make their case for change or for staying the course.

In this odd-year election, voters will choose representatives for county commissions, port districts, city councils, public school boards and special purpose districts. Elections officials in King, Snohomish, Pierce and other counties publish lists of scheduled races and instructions for candidates. While federal races may attract more attention, these local public servants’ decisions hit close to home.

Find filing information and links to county elections offices here

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In Seattle, voters will select a new mayor to set priorities for pandemic recovery and perennial issues like homelessness. They’ll decide whether to reelect City Attorney Pete Holmes, casting a decision on the efficacy of his public safety policies. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda will be defending her at-large Position 8 seat. The city’s other at-large Position 9 is an open race on the ballot with incumbent M. Lorena Gonz├ílez running for mayor. Seattle voters need candidates with a strong vision and roadmap to get there, particularly in restoring safety and civility and revitalizing the city core.

In towns across the region, voters will elect the mayors and council members who will set policies and priorities that affect them daily: zoning issues, street design, local ordinances and use of public spaces, to name a few.

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They will elect public school board members who will decide how (and during the emergency, where and when) their children are educated. Parents who have felt unheard or frustrated by distance learning will finally get another chance to help shape decision making and hold accountable board members who have been unresponsive, dismissive, disengaged or otherwise inadequate. But those kinds of contests can only happen if challengers stand for office.

The Aug. 3 state primary is not far off. Voters should start vetting candidates now, especially in crowded and competitive races.

Every local election is important, but the stakes are exceptionally high this year as communities across the region weigh critical questions about how to build back better than before the pandemic. Contested elections between candidates with different strengths and perspectives will give voters a say.