North Texas Daily

How unchallenged candidates are shaping Denton County elections

How unchallenged candidates are shaping Denton County elections

September 17
16:43 2016

Fourteen positions in Denton County will go unopposed in the general election, a problem all too common for one-party states. Seven others will run against third-party candidates. With a large Republican population, it isn’t uncommon for Denton County to see Republican incumbents go unopposed, but political science department chair Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha said it’s a symptom of a larger sickness.

“Really the big picture here is that the election that counts is the primary,” Eshbaugh-Soha said. “It’s a symptom of what could be a list of problems with our democracy. If you’re a republican and you win that primary it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that you’re going get the votes. It’s disappointing in some ways democratically since the primaries don’t see high turnout rates.”

Eshbaugh-Soha said even with third party candidates the percentage of votes would still mostly go to the Republican candidate, especially in Denton County where a majority of the registered population is Republican and many of the local government seats are filled by Republicans. Turnout is the biggest issue. When one party dominates a particular state, the turnout for other parties will likely remain low. And with Republicans in Texas already expecting Republicans to win, many don’t bother to go to the polls. Texas itself, according to the Texas Tribune, is the state with the second lowest turnout rate and Denton County is exemplary of that conclusion. Although in the 2016 Texas primaries the turnout rate here was 30.01 percent, the previous primaries in 2012 saw an 11.46 percent turnout of which only 1.47 percent were Democrats.


In states where one party rules, Eshbaugh-Soha said it isn’t unlikely that elections sometimes have unopposed candidates from one party.

“From a democratic standpoint a lack of competition can be bad,” Eshbaugh-Soha said. “Luckily this happens when you have one-party dominance, for the most part, it’s one party control. Typically what you have are primaries that matter, and if there’s not another corresponding election to raise turnout, the turnout ends up being low.”

Eshbaugh-Soha added that it’s not necessarily a bad thing that there are unopposed candidates in a place where one party dominates. He said the incumbent probably represents the county very well so it’s not completely inconceivable that the person keeps getting elected.

Bruce McFarling, a 362nd Judicial District Court Judge, will be one of the candidates running unopposed in the general election, and went unopposed in the primary as well. Not all states even elect judges. But Texas and eight others select judges through partisan elections on all trial court levels. McFarling is pleased he can serve again as a judge to Denton County, and hope it’s not because he is running unopposed.

“I hope that they’re re-electing me because the people of Denton County think I’m doing a good job, that’s the way I look at it,” McFarling said. “I’ve only gone opposed once in the general and a couple of times in primaries. It’s really based on the people that live here.”

He agrees with Eshbaugh-Soha and said the main contest is in the primary election. He does, however, think electing judges is a good way to keep them accountable to the people, they could be thrown out at any moment.

“We’re a more conservative county overall. I like to think it’s a good election because we’re the highest trial court. It gives us accountability,” McFarling said. “If we start doing what we believe and not the law, the people have the right to take us out.”

But with low turnout and lack of information on local government, that accountability may not be there.

In places where a single party is dominant, it’s unlikely people know much about their local government, Eshbaugh-Soha said. He said the further down they are down the ballot, the less likely someone is going to know about the candidate. When it comes to national issues it’s easier to take positions with information and discussion are more readily available, but it’s simply not the case with local elections.

“For local races, it takes effort to run, the likelihood that you’re gonna win if you’re not a Republican is extremely low. In many ways city government and county government have more of an impact on your daily life than anything else,” Eshbaugh-Soha said. “In having unopposed candidates I still think you are taking a sizeable percentage of the population and their voices are effectively not being heard.”

Justice, 2nd Court of Appeals District, Place 3
Elizabeth Kerr REP
Justice, 2nd Court of Appeals District, Place 4 – Unexpired Term
Bonnie Sudderth REP
District Judge, 16th Judicial District
Sherry Shipman REP
District Judge, 362nd Judicial District
Bruce McFarling REP
District Judge, 431st Judicial District
Jonathan M. Bailey REP
District Judge, 442nd Judicial District
Tiffany Haertling REP
County Commissioner Pct. 1
Hugh Coleman REP
County Commissioner Pct. 3
Bobbie J. Mitchell REP
Constable Pct. 1
Johnny Hammons REP
Constable Pct. 2
Michael A. Truitt REP
Constable Pct. 3
Jerry Raburn REP
Constable Pct. 4
Tim Burch REP
Constable Pct. 5
Doug Boydston REP
Constable Pct. 6
Richard Bachus REP


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North Texas Daily

North Texas Daily

The North Texas Daily is the official student newspaper of the University of North Texas, proudly serving UNT and the Denton community since 1916.

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