“The right to vote . . . is the primary right by which other rights are protected.”

— Thomas Paine

Sonoma County residents will have plenty of opportunities to exercise those rights this fall. Voters in Santa Rosa, Windsor, Sonoma and Healdsburg also will have an opportunity to possibly set a new course for their communities as an unusually large number of incumbents have chosen not to run for re-election.

Leading the way is Santa Rosa where none of the three incumbents, Mayor Scott Bartley and Councilmembers Jake Ours and Robin Swinth, is seeking another term, the first time in years the city has had all open seats on the ballot.

This leaves three seats open for six candidates in the race: Planning Commissioners Curtis Byrd and Ashle Crocker, former City Councilmen John Sawyer and Lee Pierce, former Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm and former Press Democrat columnist Chris Coursey.

The victors will be seated within months of Santa Rosa hiring a new top administrator, opening the door to new policies for a community that faces multiple watershed issues including contract disputes with labor unions, the reunification of Old Courthouse Square, the development of the Railroad Square area, etc. Similar changes are in the works in Healdsburg, Sonoma and Windsor where just two incumbents are running to fill the combined eight open council seats in the three communities.

In Healdsburg, four candidates are competing for seats being vacated by Susan Jones, who has chosen not to run, and Jim Wood, who is running for the state Assembly. They are former Mayor Eric Ziedrich, Planning Commissioner Jeff Civian, high school teacher Brigette Mansell and businessman Tim Meinken.

Only one of the eight people running to fill three seats on the Sonoma City Council is an incumbent: Councilman Ken Brown, who is seeking a fifth term on the council. Mayor Tom Rouse and Councilman Steve Barbose both decided not to run, citing busy schedules.

Likewise, Town Councilman Sam Salmon is the lone incumbent among six candidates seeking election in Windsor. Council members Steve Allen and Robin Goble both decided not to seek a new term. The other candidates are energy consultant Frank Di Massa; Planning Commissioners Dominic Foppoli and Mark Millan and Evan Zelig, a defense attorney.

Races in the other Sonoma County cities, however, are loaded with electeds seeking to return to office.

In Petaluma, the only incumbent not seeking re-election is Councilman Mike Harris, who is, instead, seeking to unseat David Glass as mayor. The other incumbents, Chris Albertson and Teresa Barrett, are among four candidates seeking three seats. Other candidates are Dave King, former City Councilwoman Janice Cader-Thompson and Ken Quinto.

In Sebastopol, four candidates, including three incumbents, are running for three seats.

The incumbents are Sarah Glade Gurney and Patrick Slayter, who are running for a second term, and Una Glass, executive director of Coastwalk California, who was appointed to fill out the remainder of the term of her husband, Michael Kyes, who died in May. Challenging them is Jonathan Greenberg, a frequent commenter at City Council meetings and advocate for finding additional funding for the county library system.

In both Rohnert Park and Cotati, the two incumbents up for re-election are seeking another term, and both are opposed by a single challenger. In Cotati, incumbents Mark Landman and John Moore and being challenged by former Councilman George Barich. In Rohnert Park, Council members Pam Stafford and Amy Ahanotu are opposed by David Grundman.

In addition, county voters will be asked to approve a variety of revenue measures including a $410 billion bond for Santa Rosa Junior College and a one-eighth cent sales tax to support county libraries. Voters also will face measures such as a one-cent sales tax boost in Petaluma, a utility tax expansion in Santa Rosa and a bid to remove Healdsburg’s water-fluoridation system.

The outcome of these races could have a significant impact on the future of a region still struggling in define itself in a post-Great Recession environment. Whether it’s welcome change will only be determined by those who choose to participate. To register to vote, go to http://registertovote.ca.gov