This being an off year in the election cycle, the region saw few contests this fall. There was a special election in Cheshire District 9 last week to fill a vacant state House of Representatives seat. Also, Keene held its elections Tuesday for the at-large and some ward city council positions, mayor and other municipal offices and to consider a charter amendment. Generally, all the contests ran smoothly, and that inspires some reflection, of both appreciation and concern.

First, the appreciation. In this region and throughout New Hampshire, almost all who participate in running the elections locally volunteer their time. These include elected officials, such as ward moderators, selectmen, clerks and checklist supervisors, but there are many others who pitch in setting up polling stations, checking in voters and assuring the orderly processing of ballots. Elections would not run smoothly without them. Certainly, the contests conducted this week and last week bear that out, and the same can be said of the myriad town and school elections regularly conducted at other times. That volunteers have continued to step up during the additional challenges brought on by the pandemic also earns them an extra measure of gratitude.

Also deserving appreciation are all those who step up to run for public office, simply for doing so. There’s little to no financial incentive in New Hampshire for those seeking to represent us, either locally in municipal, school district or county governance or in the statehouse in Concord. Whether that’s wise policy, service in those roles requires dedication and long hours, and often brings criticism and scrutiny. That may account for the ongoing challenge of encouraging even more residents to throw their hat in the ring — in the Keene municipal elections, for example, three of the ward council seats had a single candidate — but those who do step forward to run for often thankless positions deserve thanks.

The willingness to volunteer in conducting elections and to run for local office is perhaps more commendable these days, which leads to the concern. Sadly, the national debate in recent years has degenerated into a discouraging shouting match, with rising volume and waning civility. A mystifying target has been those entrusted to conduct elections, and the vitriol has also sown rising distrust of all elected and other public officials. That’s certainly a disturbing trend nationally, but it’s even more worrisome as signs of it begin creeping down to the local level.

Elections both locally and across New Hampshire have generally inspired confidence. But some of the rhetoric and conspiracy theories voiced since last year’s election both nationally and during an investigation of what turned out to be faultily-folded ballots in Windham feed into the increasing doubts of the fairness of elections and those conducting them. Troubling it would indeed be if the constant drumbeat assaulting election officials’ trustworthiness elsewhere were to lead local volunteers to reconsider their willingness to continue to step up.

And the nationally polarizing debate also does not portend well for encouraging more local residents to volunteer for increasingly volatile public service. For instance, a recent report from N. H. Public Radio detailed pressures local school board officials face from growing incivility of parents on both sides of whether or when kids at school should wear masks. The particular focus was on Londonderry, where one school board member was advised by a friend after a hostile and disruptive public meeting to get a home security system, was targeted by threatening protesters at her home and eventually resigned, citing as a factor the toll of meetings that felt increasingly unsafe. Though there have been some instances of rising temperatures in local debate on masking and other policies, that level of dangerous incivility has fortunately not arrived in the Monadnock region.

Keeping it at bay is a responsibility for all. It’s important to remember those who give up their time for public service, whether to serve on a local government body or to help out at the polls, almost surely do so as a public service, with the best interests of their communities in mind. Certainly, measured and reasoned criticism comes with representative roles. But those roles are challenging and thankless enough without disrespect, vitriol and even threatening behavior. With them, we might find even fewer willing to step up and serve, a disturbing sign for us all.

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