Getting residents interested in and involved with local elections is always a challenge. Voter turnout in the last general election was boosted by the partisanship of the race for President, but was still less than 75 percent in Flagler County.

As the 2018 elections approach, Flagler residents can expect to see candidate forums and other get-out-the-vote efforts designed to encourage citizen participation. While that is a fundamental requirement for a healthy democracy, not all electoral forums are created equal.

Last week the Flagler County Republican Club held a forum of candidates for the Flagler County School Board. But the event was billed for registered Republicans only, despite the fact the School Board race is nonpartisan.

That effectively shut out most of Flagler County’s 79,527 registered voters simply because they are not among the 32,296 registered Republicans, yet all registered voters will have the opportunity to vote in the School Board races. While the decision may have been made with the best of intentions as a way to serve members of the group, it also excluded 47,228 other registered voters in Flagler County.

The Flagler County Republican Club deserves praise for creating events to stimulate discussion and give voters a chance to hear the views of political candidates. But limiting who can attend a forum for a nonpartisan race sends the wrong message to voters and is an affront to the ideals of American democracy.

And candidates for public office should refuse to participate in election forums that are not open to all residents, regardless of political affiliation.

With the country as divided as it has been in generations along partisan lines, extra efforts should be made to find ways to bridge that divide rather than accentuate it. And that process should begin at the local level.

It is easy to demonize political opponents in the vacuum of social media. It is harder to do so when those people are your neighbors and friends who may see some things a little differently than you do.

While political ideals and party loyalty are important ingredients of our political system, in the end, elected officials are supposed to represent all of us, not just members of a particular club or organization.