As a new election year unfolds and candidates begin to declare their intent to seek office, we cannot help but wonder — again — why those candidates seeking a seat on the Sheridan County Commission must run based on political affiliation.

In a public office that should focus fully on the community as a whole, why does it matter whether the candidate seeking office is a Democrat or a Republican? In a time and a country that has seen so much divisiveness along political party lines, that sentiment may sound strange. Many likely cringed reading the phrase “why does it matter.”

Of course the quality of a candidate’s conviction is important. Of course a candidate’s stance on a broad range of issues matters. Land use, access, development and zoning all factor into the job of a county commissioner. Could political party affiliation and beliefs play a role in those decisions? Yes. But maybe the better question is: Should they?

This year’s race for seats on the Sheridan County Commission is the most active its been in years. When the candidates officially file their paperwork, they’ll have to declare a political party, though few — if any — mentioned a party affiliation in their campaign announcements. Just as town and city councils don’t ask for that information, neither should county offices. 

About 70 percent of registered voters in Sheridan County (10,528) are registered as Republicans. Roughly 15 percent (2,227) are registered as Democrats and 13 percent (1,918) are unaffiliated with a party. Small percentages of voters are also affiliated with the Libertarian and Constitution parties, and 33 voters are affiliated with parties Wyoming does not recognize.

Town and city council candidates campaign against each other as a whole in a nonpartisan race, so should county-level candidates. The idea being that no matter the voters’ political affiliation, they should have the strongest voice possible in who manages the government closest to them.