We have no idea who these people are. As a conscientious voter I always make an attempt to try and find out. The voter's guide gives them a profile and brief summary of their philosophy. They're always hardworking, honest, dignified - real pillars of the community. Which I have no doubt they are. Local politics may be the one arena in which personal ambition is not at the top of the agenda. But the problem comes in actually deciphering the difference between the candidates. Often times there is no profile for a particular office; only the candidate's name is listed. Thanks to the internet the task is now somewhat easier. Most candidates have a website. But even then it's hard to make out what they really believe.
So I think what many of us end up doing is looking at endorsements. We find an organization with whom we tend to share a political philosophy, and then trust that they know something about a candidate that we do not. We make a little checklist (who's really going to remember who all these people are, anyway?!!) and head off to the polls.
But I have a hunch that this isn't how many voters operate. And this would explain the signs. Most voters at least know who the big guys are. They know which senator they like. They know which governor. They might not have a very clear understanding of why, if the average campaign ad is any indication. But they at least know something about the candidate. And I'll wager seeing nothing but a name on a roadside sign isn't going to really push them one way or the other. To the extent that you see a big name on a sign, it's likely advertising the identity of the resident more than anything else.
But the sheriffs and judges, comptrollers and water board members - these are the guys you see staggered along main drags, their lonely names signifying little more than coherent little strings of letters. But in the polling booth, once the main candidates are chosen, these signs come alive. From deep within the cerebral tissue, filed away somewhere between a radio station's call letters and the password to an email account, this specific alphabetic arrangement suddenly bursts forth and there, what to the wondering blue pen should appear, but
"TONKS for COMMISSIONER"
And just like that it is gone. By the end of the next week the signs are packed up and carted away in the middle of the night. The appellate judges go on judging, the school board members go on membering. The auditors go on auditing.