For some “non-partisan” races in California like the city council where I live, a phenomenon called “slate politics” is often employed. It’s basically the same thing as partisan politics with the exception of the primary process. So a group of community (vs. official party) leaders get together and choose who they want to run as a slate in the general election. It’s a different process because it seems to require more pandering than the usual party process but from my perspective, it looks like the same thing.
In Menlo Park, the city where I live, there are three seats open for this upcoming election. Two of the three incumbents have announced they will run for re-election and then their slate will add a new person who will run for the “open” seat. Then the opposing slate will put up three other people who have been active in city politics for the past few to several years. It’s easy for communities to band together like this in campaigns because they can save money on printing, save volunteer time by distributing multiple flyers, etc. And they have a better chance of getting someone elected who fits within their comfort zone on certain issue platforms.
This process is tough on the candidates because it becomes increasingly difficult for them to make names for themselves as individuals. And it’s tough for voters because they are left essentially with only two options – one slate or the other. It is challenging to discern how one candidate might vote and it is hard to find moderate candidates. Also, candidates often hide their party affiliations so as to not offend potential voters. I often end up abstaining or writing in names on one or more slot if I’m not comfortable with all three, for instance.
It’s no different in the sense than what happens in the typical general election after parties have selected their candidates except that I am not a participant in the primary process. Frankly, I would prefer a party system on the local level where voters can participate equally through a legitimate primary process and have full disclosure on candidate affiliations. I had a few friends considering running in the Menlo Park City Council race who were basically told not to run and for them it’s disheartening. I would’ve liked to have seen them try.