America claims to be a bastion of democracy, but do we really support it? The right to vote is a bedrock of democracy, yet a little more than one third of Tillamook County’s eligible voters cast ballots in the May 16 election. That means a third of eligible voters decided seats on important local boards which set policies that affect us all.
The numbers make the discrepancy between our avowal of democracy and our practice of it more graphic: 7,604 voted; 13,543 didn’t as of the May 19 count. Granted, many of the board seats had only one candidate, and several none, a fact that signifies lack of citizen participation. On the other hand, the Nestucca school board had a spirited race among candidates for four seats. Strikingly, Russ Sanders fell behind by one vote, 717-718, to Zachary Best, supported by the rightist “We the People” group. Some mail ballots remain to be counted and the narrow margin may trigger a recount.
The Sanders-Best contest puts to the lie the excuse that “my vote doesn’t matter.” On the larger scale, the fact that a third of eligible voters decide representatives and policies that affect us all should ring alarm bells for we the people. Even if we don’t know or care about who is on the Hebo Joint Water & Sanitary District board, Position #2, for instance, we should cast a ballot to support our democratic ideals.
Despite the dismal turnout, Tillamook County’s mark of 36% surpasses all but a handful of Oregon’s 36 counties. Statewide, 26% of eligible voters bothered the 15 minutes or so it takes to mail in a ballot. It would take a long dissertation to ferret out why our voter turnout is so low even in national elections. Why shouldn’t it be 100% or at least 99%? We could look at media coverage, education resources including our schools turning out poor marks in history and governmental policy, or simply the mind fog keeping us glued to the TV-social media-video game-internet gaggle.
As individuals, we may recognize that casting one ballot will not change the world (probably), but we need also to recognize that as responsible citizens we need to at least show up.