On Tuesday the residents of Waynesboro and Staunton will have the right to vote for their representatives. I hope they will exercise that privilege, but history suggests most will not.
And if the political maxim of “the voice of the people is the voice of God” is to be believed, one must accept that God’s silence is meaningful as well.
So why not vote? This is such an important responsibility to be so routinely ignored. What happens locally will impact the residents as directly and meaningfully as anything that occurs in Richmond or Washington. The differences in participation however are striking as if there are significantly lesser degrees of value. In the last presidential election 72% of registered voters turned out, 47% for Virginia’s last statewide voting, but a city election will often register just 15% to 20%.
In trying to understand why people opt not to vote, it seems to me we need to ask some questions:
» Are there too many elections? In order to distinguish themselves, state office seekers have elections on different years than do federal candidates. And city governments choose to separate from state elections by polling in different months. Additionally, there are primary elections. In Virginia we have elections every year and 2 or 3 times each year.
» Are there too many local offices? For federal elections, at most, we will vote for a president, a senator, and a congressman. For a governor’s election the only other state ballot listings are for lieutenant governor, attorney general and a delegate. But locally when we elect supervisors or councilmen, we can be asked to choose school board members, commissioners of revenue, treasurers, sheriffs, clerks of court and commonwealth attorneys.
» Are the voting systems used in our cities unfair? Both Waynesboro and Staunton use all voters to determine all representation. Thomas Jefferson’s faith in “wards” inside of counties for the building of democracy is ignored. Diversity and the value of the vote is diminished when smaller political sub-divisions, choosing their own representatives, do not exist. Power is concentrated rather than shared.
I think each of these considerations impact voter participations and each can be better done.
One election a year is enough. City and town elections when paired with state polling will cause greater participation, which should offset concerns about sharing the spotlight.
As for political party primaries; when caused, they need to be the sole responsibility of the party causing them. If they want to use local systems, allow it, but with cost re-imbursement.
As for the number of office holders; we could do better with less. The Constitutional offices; treasurer, commissioner of revenue, sheriff, clerk of court and commonwealth attorney exist for political patronage. These jobs are structured to be carried out within rigid, generally understood standards, by professionals who are best chosen by experience and resume. The first four could easily be folded into and hired by county or city administrations. The commonwealth attorneys would be better appointed, than elected, when done similarly as Judges.
As for school board members; it is often hard to field one candidate for each position, let alone providing voters with choices. Returning to boards and councils appointing these positions has advantages.
There are good citizens who may be willing to serve if not having to run for election. The governing bodies then have some responsibility for the work of those they appoint. And this should create shared responsibility for all credit or criticism in school performance.
The citywide voting for councilmen needs end. Every city has unique areas with dissimilar conditions and each needs its own designations and elected champions. The needs of working class areas may be real, and longstanding, but ignored because one of their own choosing does not exist.
For those who defend the existing condition as fair, because it is simply “majority rules,” they would do well to consider this more fully. Were Virginia to likewise allow all voters to choose all officeholders, the supervisors in Augusta might all be Democrats. (Pass the smelling salts as necessary)
And if all U.S. voters were the electors for all 100 senators, we could have 100 Mitch McConnells or 100 Chuck Schumers. (The mind reels)
But no matter our present shortcomings, there is work at hand. Times are tough, solid leadership has never been more in need. The good people of Waynesboro and Staunton will hopefully evaluate their choices and vote their consciences on Tuesday. It is always good to hear God’s voice.