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Politics & Government

No one on the ballot: In Forest County, 38 percent of county board seats have no candidate

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If you’re a voter anywhere in Forest County, no choices for county board supervisor will greet you on next Tuesday’s ballot.

In 13 districts, the candidate is running unopposed.

In the other eight districts, there is no candidate at all. No one showed interest in running for the office.

“I don’t know what they’ll do in the future as far as drawing people to those positions, or if these zones will have to be redistricted to fit a supervisor, but it’s harder and harder every year that goes by,” said Scott Goode, who has served on the Forest County Board for six years and is running unopposed.

Goode points to an apathetic attitude about public service in general as a cause for the issue.

“I think it’s just a general, in society, people are getting away from community-mindedness and the spirit of helping and volunteerism in general,” he said.

Not every county in the Northwoods has such an issue. For example, Oneida and Lincoln counties each have 14 contested races for county board this spring.

It’s a hodgepodge across the state, said Sarah Diedrick, the Director of Outreach and Member Engagement at the Wisconsin Counties Association.

Some counties have lots of candidates, some have very few.

One common thread? Lots of retirements and turnover on county boards this cycle.

“I’d say there are a few primary reasons why we may be seeing turnover. I think COVID fatigue may certainly be one of those reasons. I think there was a lot of stress placed on county boards over the last two years with the pandemic. I know there were some difficult and challenging issues that counties faced during the pandemic that may have led to COVID fatigue, which is why we may be seeing some folks retiring from the county board,” Diedrick said.

In places like Forest County, managing a county government with a shorthanded board may be a tough task.

“There could potentially be some delays in county board training,” Diedrick said. “There could be some delays in appointment of committees, for example, because we don’t yet have a full county board.”

The board chair in Forest County will have the ability to appoint people to fill open seats with the consent of the rest of the board.

But that will take time.

It could ultimately mean, because of the lack of candidate interest, more than a third of board members will never have gotten a single vote from their constituents.

Elections are next Tuesday.

This story was produced in partnership with Beyond the Headlines, a program of Wisconsin Humanities, and was funded in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's Democracy and the Informed Citizen initiative. BTH brings members of Wisconsin media and the public together to examine how we can be ready and informed to meet our communities’ challenges.

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