| G. Michael Dobbs
In Springfield, the City Council passed what turned out to be a fairly controversial new ordinance: The Municipal Election Notification ordinance.
Now I don’t know off-hand about recent voter numbers in various communities – I know this year’s election in East Longmeadow had 6.2 percent turnout while the recent election in Wilbraham had just a little over 5 percent of the registered voters come to the polls – but I do know this is an issue in many cities and towns.
The lower turnout seems to be mostly a problem for municipal elections as opposed to those in which a president or governor is decided.
City Councilor Jesse Lederman proposed a postcard sent to homes prior to the election, as well as signs the day of the election. He also proposed having the election announced through the city’s all call system.
He said that the program would cost $13,000 for each election – a notification would be sent out for a primary and a general election – and would only be used for the municipal election.
Mayor Domenic Sarno quickly vetoed the ordinance and sent out a veto message that started, “Are we now talking about publicly financing campaigns – is that our next step? There are certainly a lot of unanswered questions. Is this now going to lead to other elections, including special elections, referendum questions, and/or state elections too?”
Sarno would like to form a committee to consider the issue. This ordinance would not solve all of the problems of voter apathy, but it would have been the start of a strategy.
I have to respectfully disagree with the mayor. Vetoing such a modest proposal addressing the lack of participation in municipal elections perhaps is not the right message during a year with a municipal election.
Considering the ordinance does not have a funding source, it’s a safe bet that unless one was found this would not be implemented until the next municipal election in two years, and four years for the mayor’s job.
In an election in which Sarno is facing several opponents, his veto is a talking point for them.
Some folks have praised the mayor’s decision based on the idea that $26,000 for a two-election cycle would create a raise in taxes. Really? How many taxpayers are there in the city?
Why don’t people vote? Some don’t see the point of it believing, rightly or wrongly, that government is going to do what it’s going to do without consideration for the will of the voter.
In today’s atmosphere of social media and its endless repetition of half-truths and fabrications, one can easily see where this cynicism comes from.
The issue with local elections is this is where the decision is made that affect our lives first: garbage pickup, streets being cleaned and plowed properly, police protection, fire protection and good public schools.
The mayor, city council and school committees are vital in maintaining and improving those services. Municipal elections count.
In this day and age some folks believe that if they complain enough on Facebook or Twitter– or put anonymous comments on news websites – that they are making some sort of impact and doing their civic duty.
They are not. Voicing an opinion is fine, but casting a vote is more important.
Our former First Lady Michelle Obama said, “Elections aren’t just about who votes, but who doesn’t vote.”