It’s simple, this is what democracy is all about, the freedom and ability to vote for who you so choose to serve out a term on the District Council. On April 23, 2013, District citizens have the opportunity and I dare say the obligation to vote for a new Council member and on the budget autonomy referendum. This is not an endorsement of a candidate rather of the process because at the core of the push for Statehood is the basic yearning to have something meaningful to vote for, to have the full rights as our neighbors to take a few minutes out of our day to select those that we think could best lead our government.
If you want to know why voting for Council is important just look to recent history as one reason. 1974 was the first time in the 20th century that District citizens could vote for Council and Mayor. Yes, just 39 years ago was the first time we could for local officials since before 1874. Yep, for 100 years we were denied any ability to elect any local officials so we shouldn’t take the opportunity for granted. Strangely, we could vote for President (1964) before we could vote for Council or Mayor, but such is life in the last colony. While our local laws still undergo congressional review most laws are not overturned by Congress thus it’s important to turn out and vote for who you think is best suited to write and amend those laws.
Another important reason to vote is leverage, we need to demonstrate that we care about democracy and the best way to demonstrate that is to be active in it by voting. District voters turnout out in high numbers relative to the rest of the country in presidential election years but should replicate that in other elections as well since they all matter. Certainly, people have the right to not vote but with a field of 6 active candidates for one office voters should either be able to find the best candidate or the least worst candidate to vote for.
Turnout should be high (says the eternal optimist within me), although based on low early voting numbers and recent turnout figures for other special elections it’s more than likely that turnout will be low, quite low, depressingly low. A best guess estimate would have turnout being somewhere between 10-15% and that’s just pathetic. So, if only 10-15% of voters turnout out and there’s a field of 7 candidates on the ballot (Michael Brown is still on the ballot although he’s suspended his campaign) then someone could win with approximately 18% or so of the vote. That means out of a city of 632,000 people with 505,000 registered voters, someone could win a city wide office with roughly 9,090 votes. That means our next Council member At-Large could be elected with a “mandate” from 2% of registered voters.
Yes, this could happen and it would be pathetic (and would show how we need electoral reform preferably with open primaries with a run-off between the top two vote getters). However, this is the system we have and thus this is the system that we all must participate in to make it better. For those upset with the trajectory of our local government or those slap-happy with its transparency, openness, effectiveness (kidding of course) it’s hard to believe that only 10-15% of folks will turn out to exercise their democratic rights. We have a lot of choices so choose one but making a choice is something that 85% of eligible voters might not do and that just sucks. I firmly believe that we’re better than this so let’s show it on Tuesday.
Elections, like the push for Statehood, ultimately are decided by involvement of the people. If the vast majority of us choose to do nothing then nothing will happen. If some of us (10-15%) do something then maybe some changes will occur but if the vast majority of us take a stand, speak up, and take action then we can create the change we are seeking. Go vote on Tuesday and make your voice is heard for the direction you believe the District needs to move.
On April 23, 2013, make sure you thank those election workers as they are they unsung heroes of 200+ years of our limited democracy that keep the process open and functional for all of us.
To find out more where to vote and all other things related to DC elections go to www.dcboee.org