Dunno about your locale, but here in Indiana today we had our annual opportunity to participate in the Election Day primaries that determine which political candidates will be allowed by their respective parties to run for office for real in November. It happens on the same Tuesday every year, so it’s not exactly a trade secret, but the voter turnout is always paltry. Voting for positions such as city-council seats or school board members or tax referendums isn’t as glamorous or intoxicating as voting for mayor, governor, President, or American Idol, but it’s a privilege someone has to exercise so the system will keep running according to The Way Things Are and we don’t have to appoint new leaders by choosing from random LinkedIn profiles.
Thanks to a citizenry too busy or apathetic or bored to show up, this means some crucial decisions are made by a fraction of the population acting on behalf of the whole. The fewer people show up, the more weight your vote carries. If you convince enough registered voter friends to join you, and give the people a reason to stay home, you could theoretically become your town’s very own Kingpin. It’s kind of intoxicating, unless you’re too nice to be evil about it. Then you have to settle for whatever power the absentees grant you and hope it’s enough for a light buzz.
As of 9:13 p.m. EDT tonight, the unofficial count for our county was 45,145 ballots submitted out of a total body of 633,771 registered voters. That’s a 7.12% engagement rate, which is technically shameful from a democracy perspective but not the worst Indiana county percentage I’ve heard tonight. Flip the divisor and dividend, and the numbers tell us we poll attendees each represented on behalf of ourselves and thirteen other voters. If you adjust for non-voters, the stats grant us even more importance. I don’t know the actual population of my particular district, but the ballot-eating machine told me I was voter #121. Based on what I know of our local demographics, our geography, and my biased personal generalizations, it’s possible I spoke not just for myself today, but on behalf of potentially hundreds of other slackers in my vicinity.
And oh, what tough choices I had to settle for them today. As their unknowing emissary, the responsibility lay on my shoulders to render judgment upon every balloted cause and trust that my verdicts would be fair and beneficial to us all. Or maybe just objective and wisely reasoned. Or, failing that, let’s hope my votes don’t somehow trigger a nasty butterfly effect that sparks a recession or sends into a land war against Ohio. I think we can take them, but they’re not worth the effort.
Our May primary conflicts, then:
1. Choosing a new Indianapolis mayor! Our own Greg Ballard is stepping down from office and leaving a vacuum that each party is desperate to plug. Our exotic nominative choices in the Big Two were:
Republican: A guy with two master’s degrees who owns both a Potbelly and a soup joint downtown; a notary public who’s lost elections for several other offices; a realtor; a retired fireman; and a janitor. The restaurateur was the predicted frontrunner in this crowded field.
Democrat: Best-known is Joe Hogsett, former Indiana Secretary of State, Democratic Party chairman, and U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana. His name pops up in Indianapolis Star articles from time to time, which means he’s officially famous here. His sole opponent is Larry Vaughn, founder of a street-level outreach charity called the Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition. Vaughn isn’t as high-profile, but on a tangential note “Mayor Larry Vaughn” was also the poorly dressed guy in Jaws who refused to close Amity’s beaches and basically gave the giant killer shark a license to chow down. I’m certain our Larry Vaughn could beat Sheriff Brody’s nemesis Larry Vaughn, but Joe Hogsett is less unreasonable than the latter Vaughn. I hope.
2. Decide whether or not to raise taxes! Our school district wants more money For The Children, and they’d like more property taxes to foot the bills. If we say yes, my wife and I get to go to McDonald’s less often and their football coaches can keep dressing much more nicely than we do. If we say no, they’ll replace all history textbooks with Wikipedia printouts and start deporting teachers to Kentucky, one every hour, until at least 50% of the kiddie population promises to study slightly harder for their standardized tests.
3. Confirm the unopposed council candidates! Exactly one Democrat and one Republican are interested in the one seat that’s up for reelection. We can vote “them” to confirm, or skip that question and stick it to The MAN. Who knows? Maybe our deliberate “No Award” stance will hurt The MAN’s feelings.
…and that’s our whole May ballot. I opted out of forty minutes’ overtime today so I could invest an extra four minutes’ effort in the name of perpetuating Indiana government, using the power bestowed upon me by thirteen forfeiters and 50 to 500 disqualified spectators. I was hoping I could abuse the opportunity and make some real changes in how things are run ’round these parts — maybe add some write-in candidates from other parties (if we still have those), or lower some taxes that only pay for office supplies or Arbor Day decorations, or maybe affect a burning issue that really means something to me, like abolishing speed limits or granting tax breaks to bloggers.
Alas, those and a hundred other useful measures in my head didn’t make the ballot. If they had, at least I would’ve been there to support them, no matter how many thousands of enemies they made me.