No party? No problem: Running as an independent for local government

MARQUETTE — Democrat or Republican? That’s the first question many ask themselves when they head to the polls on election day. When it comes to some ballot decisions, the choice can be more than binary.

“When I actually chose to run, I sat back and I looked and I said, ‘am I a Democrat, or am I a Republican?’ I’ve never had to face that question before,” said Bill Vajda, who is running for Marquette County Commmissioner in District Three.

During his lifetime of public service roles, Vajda, a Marquette resident, says he had to leave his views and biases at home. When the time came to run for the Commission seat, Vajda had to decide on a party affiliation. After realizing that he was disenchanted with the focus and methods of the two major parties, he chose a third path.

“To be true to myself, to be true to the kind of things I believe in, being an independent was just a logical choice,” Vajda added.

If a candidate aligns with either major party, voters may have at least a ballpark idea of what that candidate stands for. Vajda says going independent has made him focus more on the issues he champions. It also inspires him to reach out to the community: so far, he says he’s spent around 170 hours knocking on doors and talking to potential constituents.

Independent candidates also need to get numerous residents to sign a qualifying petition before they can even get on the ballot.

“Although it’s a little bit [of an] extra hurdle that you face as an independent, it actually gives you a fair amount of comfort because at least you know you’ve been out in front of the electorate. You’ve got a sense of whether or not people think you’re a viable candidate and if they’re interested in you or not,” said Vajda.

A recent decision by a federal judge has overturned a state ban on straight-party voting on November’s ballots – the same ballots on which local independents like Vajda appear. While going straight-party can shorten a voter’s time at the polls, it can also box out candidates not affiliated with a major party.

“I think most people just intuitively understand that if you’re willing to watch American Idol and try to figure out who should be in the final four there, you can spend at least that much time trying to figure out who’s going to run the country and who’s going to run local government,” said Vajda.