Election Results: Dems Suck at Civic Engagement

Gee whiz, Dems.  I know your ballot wasn’t as full as Repubs, but don’t you know that real change comes on a local level?

Statewide, voter turnout was crappy in yesterday’s elections (34.5%), but those who proudly pronounce themselves the party of “community organizers” weren’t very well organized, with a pitiful 18.89% turnout to the elephants’ also-kinda-pitiful 36.24%.

In Clay County (arguably the most blue of all this red state’s counties), the overall turnout margin was much closer: Dems at 26.75% and Repubs at 30.4%.

In Vermillion’s Central Ward (the bluest of the blue–our little “Berkeley on the Prairie”), Republican turnout barely topped Dems by a .02% margin–that’s 141 out of 647 registered Dems showing up to vote (and some Independents are also counted in there, making things a hair confusing) compared to 53 out of 243 Republicans.

In all other wards in the county, registered Republican turnout percentages topped Democrats by 7-17 percentage points. What the heck?  There were no candidates running unopposed in the City elections, there was a primary for county commission, and still we couldn’t get our butts in gear to get to the polls?

Even with a number of self-identified progressive candidates on the ballot in our city elections, the status quo was cemented by low voter turnout and the apathy of our registered Dems.  In some wards, barely over 100 votes were cast to decide the election.

That’s not to say that a high turnout would’ve necessarily been a “throw the bums out” referendum (and that’s not to say I think all the incumbents are bums), but a higher turnout would’ve felt a little more like a input-based decision and less like an, eh. whatev.

The only incumbent candidate running for city council who didn’t win was in Central Ward, where the percentage turnout on both sides was almost equal.  And the margin by which John Grayson bested Mary Edelen was only 5 votes.  While city election aren’t party-identified, Edelen is registered “red” in a very blue ward.

In the mayoral race, Nick “Tick” Severson garnered 23.35% of the total vote–pretty impressive numbers considering such a low turnout on the side of the aisle that (c’mon, you know it’s true) would be most likely to vote for a young, first-time progressive candidate who’s not afraid to say he inhaled.

Looking at the Secretary of State’s site for turnout and results, it looks like voter apathy is a problem all across the state, but next time I hear someone “blue” bitch about our city’s elected officials, my first question will be, “well, did you vote in the last election?”  The second will be, “and how many other people did you encourage to vote?”

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7 responses

  1. Hey, all I had was a county auditor primary where my gal got beat 12% to 88%. I still made a point of showing up to vote. 🙂

    Spot on, Flying Tomato. We’ve got to be the change we want to see by showing up to vote!

  2. Rebecca,

    Please allow a few comments from the other side of the fence.

    I completely agree with you. Voter turn out is far lower than it should have been.

    One thing that struck me 6 years ago when I was elected to the City Council (I won by one (1) vote) was that in the months following my swearing-in I had to get used to the notion that if people cared about an issue they would seek me out as their elected representative and give me their opinion.

    The cold hard fact is that if I want public opinion on an issue I have to seek it out. I do make a point of trying to talk to as many people as I can before meetings and HOPE that people (from both sides) come to speak to the council as you did on the recent farmers market issue.

    At a wind energy talk put on by Plains Justice a few weeks back I was asked how many calls or emails I had received over the years concerning renewable energy. Take a guess.

    I can’t tell you if that is just a “Vermillion” thing or not. I think public perception is that the Council is doing a good job. I’d certainly appreciate feedback on any votes people think we screwed up recently. There is certainly not a “throw the bums out” mentality that I’ve seen in campaign ads and that you reference in your blog.

    There is something else to consider since you brought up voter apathy. I spend an unbelievable amount of time talking to people about how local government works. Yes, really. From comments about firing the Chief of Police to balance the school board budget to why did the council vote to
    “let some business in” or “keep some business out” of Vermillion. There is a real lack of understanding out there about local government, and specifically what the City Manager form of government does, and can do within the limits of state law. Did you read the letter to the editor in the last Plain Talk blaming the City Council for a poorly designed and executed Cherry Street? Highway 50 (Cherry St.) was a State of South Dakota project through and through. We had no vote – not one – about the design and construction. The recent addition of a “Citizens Academy” will help, but there is more work to be done.

    I certainly agree with your comments on the voter apathy.

    Kent

    • Thanks for reading and also for commenting, Kent.

      I agree that there is a real lack of understanding about how city government works, and going through the Citizens Academy really helped me to have a greater respect for local government and what it can and can’t do. I now find myself doing the, “well, actually, the way it works is…” fairly often when I hear someone griping about local governance. And, yeah, I’ll admit I get pretty excited when I see the new street sweeper in my neighborhood on the first Wednesday of the month. I also tell everybody I know they should tour the water treatment plant!

      My point wasn’t that there should have been a “throw the bums out” referendum, but that with so many contested races, it’d be nice if we had results that reflected an actual consensus–even of just half of registered voters. I pick on Dems specifically because so many of them passed up the opportunity to make their voice heard on local issues presumably just because they didn’t have big, exciting primaries.

      Would a better turnout have made a difference in the results? That’s hard to say, but I think in some races it would have.

      Thanks again for the comment–and congratulations on your win! We’ve all got to work together to make this a great community, and I look forward to working with you.

      –re.

  3. It’s a big challenge to keep the public informed about city government without a daily paper. Any chance some of our city council members could send emails to their constituents? I’ve seen it work well elsewhere.

  4. Yes. We do that now, and we can do more. There is a sign-up area on the city website http://www.vermillion.us where you can leave your email, and any communications that come out go to those addresses.

    Look for webcasts of council meetings with online archives to come soon. I’m working on that.

    I’ve been thinking of actively using my blog at http://www.vermillion.me to get more out as well… from my POV, of course.

    It is hard without a daily and without a local commercial radio station. We are trying to get more involvement with the student station KAOR – they seem to be willing to spotlight news and events on-the-air and archived. There have been meetings, and things are looking good.

    The addition of the Equalizer has really helped. It’s mailed to every address in Vermillion every week.

    Of course, any other ideas would be welcome.

    Kent

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