Eighteen candidates are running for 14 offices in Farmington, Bloomfield and Aztec. But many of those offices will be filled before anyone votes in the municipal elections on March 4.

That's because only six of the races this year are contested, while the majority are uncontested.

While we commend all 18 candidates for throwing their hats into the ring and vying for a chance to serve their communities, we're disappointed that more people didn't do the same. A democracy on any level — federal, state or local — relies heavily on elected representatives lobbying on behalf of their constituents. When the vast majority of the races are decided before people even step foot in a voting booth, it takes away the cornerstone of our government system — choice. And it also tends to discourage voting.

When much of the election is already decided, it's easy to sit this one out.

This certainly isn't intended to slight any of the candidates running uncontested. Rather, we hope more people follow their lead and decide to get involved in local politics.

San Juan County needs strong leaders to advocate for residents. Farmington, Aztec and Bloomfield face a variety of issues — budget woes, a slumping oil and gas industry, infrastructure problems and the need for economic development, to name a few. Elected leaders must be ready to deal with these issues and the litany of new ones that are sure to arise during their terms.

Inserted in today's paper is The Daily Times Election Guide. In it, you'll find brief introductions of all 18 candidates and stories on the four contested races. We hope you'll take the time to read about all of the candidates, not just the ones running for contested races.

Sure, 14 of those candidates will likely take office whether you vote for them or not. But it's still important to know what your elected representatives stand for and what they plan to do in office.

We encourage you to check out what the candidates have to say at two local forums. Aztec's forum is from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday at the Aztec Civic Center, 101 S. Park Ave. And Farmington's runs from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 13 at the Farmington Public Library.

And, of course, get out there and vote. If you haven't already, register to vote by 5 p.m. this Tuesday at the county clerk's office in Aztec at 100 South Oliver Drive, Suite 200.

Montesquieu, an 18th Century political thinker who laid some of the groundwork for our Democracy, famously said, "The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy."

We won't be quite as dramatic, but we do agree that indifference — or even worse, willful ignorance — is one of the worst things that can happen in a democracy. So in this election, do yourself and your community a favor and stay informed. Choose a candidate in the contested races where you live and learn about the people running unopposed.

After the election, keep your representatives accountable for what they promised. Stay involved and informed. Then maybe we'll have more contested races to write about in the next election.