As we approach Town Meeting season, it's encouraging to see, in Manchester at least, that there are several competitive elections in progress that give voters a choice of candidates.

We haven't dug back into the records to see if our hunch that the number of contested races has tapered off in recent years, compared to some point in the past, but it has seemed like a majority of elected positions for school boards and select boards have drawn few challengers for the incumbents. Contested races seemed to be the exception rather than the rule.

So it's reassuring to see one of the school director seats up for grabs between two candidates, even if the other one, a three-year post, has drawn only one candidate. The plus side of that is that Brian Vogel is that one candidate, and we've been impressed with his independent cast of mind on education issues and questions that have come before the school board. Whether you have agreed with him or not since he joined the school board two years ago, he has brought a perspective to the board's deliberations that should be heard and we're glad, even if it would be better if this too were a contested race, that his viewpoint will continue to be aired.

The other race for the two year seat on the school board is being contested by Mark Kaplan and Steven Murphy, and we're sure that whoever garners the most votes on March 5, the town, and the school district, will be well-served.

Meanwhile, over on the Select Board side, a total of four candidates competing for two seats has prompted a spirited race between a group of well-qualified candidates. Incumbents Carol Lattuga and Steve Nichols are squared off against Karen Gieriak and Greg Cutler. All are concerned, committed residents who have much to offer their community. To remove any suspense, we're not making any endorsements pro or con over these races. We think any combination of the four will serve the town well; most importantly, they are giving local voters a choice, and that's a big part of what democracy, especially at the grassroots level, should be all about.

As always, we'll take this opportunity to encourage all registered voters to make their voices heard this year at their local town meetings. Running for public office is of course, the highest, or at least one of the highest expressions of civic involvement a person can make, but it's not the only way. Showing up at board meetings, and especially at the annual Town Meeting, are surely others. Hopefully this Town Meeting season will see robust, but fair and civil, discussion of whatever issues voters feel they need to air out. We'll be there too.