When primaries don’t matter

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The Greensboro City Council election is our favorite election, even in years like this when the slate lacks any drama or intrigue and voter turnout promises to be on the low end.

We’ve got the results of Greensboro’s primary on page 8, but in this space, before press time, we’re preemptively putting the participation level at just 6-7 percent.

It’s a favorite because we’ve been covering it for more than a decade — our staff goes back five mayors in Greensboro — and everybody takes our phone calls. We understand how the precincts fall and how the at-large candidates should fare.

Plus, the Greensboro City Council election is the only game in town in odd-numbered years — for now. Ideally, all city elections would be held in odd-numbered years.

Here’s why:

Your city council has a greater effect on your life than anyone elected to represent you in Washington, DC — we’re talking garbage collection, police and fire departments, water and sewer services, property taxes and values. Voters should be more focused on these elections than any other, though the numbers don’t bear that out. In 2012, the year of President Barack Obama’s re-election, Forsyth County had a 71 percent voter turnout, while the Winston-Salem municipal election of 2013 drew just below 11 percent of eligible voters.

Winston-Salem begins holding its city election in even years in 2016, the product of a bit of partisanship rammed through the legislature by former state Rep. Dale Folwell in 2013. It’s good for overall voter-turnout numbers, but it scuttles the municipal races down to the bottom of the ballot, diluting their importance with obscure judicial contests, the House and Senate undercards and the main event, which soaks up most of the available attention bandwidth.

Your city council has a greater effect on your life than anyone elected to represent you in Washington, DC.

Winston-Salem will move its city elections to even-numbered years in 2016. High Point switched in 2008. So right now the Greensboro City Council election is the only game in town.

Another key difference between the cities: Winston-Salem’s city council election is a partisan contest, meaning that candidates run on a party slate. Because most districts generally lean one way or the other, all the action is in the primary, which drew about 7 percent of the electorate last time around. The Republican primary for the Southwest Ward was won by just four votes, and even then the guy didn’t stand a chance against the incumbent, Dan Besse, who in the general election captured more than 81 percent of the vote.

That’s not an election. That’s a farce.