Last week’s primary again showed us one thing that makes America great: No matter how irate we get about issues or each other, no matter how much mud is slung or how many fingers pointed, we’re still capable of holding peaceful and free elections.
It also reinforced something that endangers our freedom: For all the attention given to the importance of the 2010 mid-term elections, we still can’t get the majority of Indiana voters to get out and cast ballots. It took me all of ten minutes. Sometimes I think laziness and apathy will doom the Republic long before dictators and extremists get around to it.
Okay, I’ll grant you that I spent many an hour educating myself on the issues and the candidates, but that doesn’t change the point that one of the reasons we end up with duds in Washington and the Statehouse is that we just don’t bother to get rid of them. It’s like having a check engine light come on in your car: If you handle the situation you’ll be fine, but if you just drive around without fixing it, or bothering to find out what the problem is in the first place, you’re libel to end up full of regrets along the side of the road.
Or, as often happens in politics, you could blame the engine. “I can’t believe it just stopped doing what I wanted! Sure, I ignored it for years, but I thought it was designed to work for me. How was I to know that it needs periodic attention?
Well, guess what, people? If you let our elected officials get away with shenanigans year after year, sooner or later they’ll decide you don’t care and they can do whatever they want.
Some argue that it’s best if people who can’t be bothered to educate themselves don’t vote. After all, if they don’t know the candidates, do you really want them flipping a coin in the voting booth? Good point.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the people who do vote educate themselves. Could it be I got elected to the town council because I’m known for writing a weekly column in which I make fun of myself? “Hey, that Mark Hunter: He breaks things and blows up lawn mowers -- I’m voting for him.”
My platform? Frankly, that insulated glass dome over the whole town was a nonstarter from the get-go.
Do you think your vote doesn’t count? Well, Doug Harp won the Noble County Sheriff’s primary by one percent -- a difference of about forty votes.
An even closer unofficial margin separated Robin Riley and Dave Rudolph in the Huntertown Clerk-Treasurer race: six votes.
If half a dozen people had decided they were just too busy to deal with their responsibilities, we’d be looking at a tie. If just seven Riley supporters had gotten off their couch, there’d be a different winner. Don’t tell me your vote doesn’t matter -- and don’t tell me that a position responsible for every dollar that flows through a community government can’t have an effect on you.
Now, for my biannual plea to change a couple of Indiana’s election laws. First of all, why in the world do we have an election almost every year? My Town Council term is up in 2011. Yep -- there’s an election again in 2011, followed closely by still another friggin’ election in 2012. Why do we do this to ourselves?
It’s hard enough to find people to run for local office, without having an election so off-year that the local news covers it in a five minute segment after the weather. I ran unopposed last time. Seriously. What kind of democracy is it when there’s not even a contest? I think I prefer the time I ran for student council in high school, and came in 8 out of 7 candidates. (They had a heck of a time swearing in “none of the above”.)
Besides, it costs money to have an election. If 2% of the voters show up, and you only average one person coming into the precinct every half hour, you still have to have a minimum number of poll workers as well as the setup and breakdown time, and the mandatory ball of red tape. (During their 2008 caucus, the town of Ottumwa, Iowa, gathered together a record setting ball of red tape thirty-eight feet in diameter.)
So why don’t we have elections only in even years? That wouldn’t be odd.
The second law I’d like to see defenestrated (no, look it up yourself -- I’m tired out from candidate research) is what I call the primary party law, and I don’t mean hitting the main Presidential Inaugural Ball before going on to the one with the country music and the free booze. In Indiana, in order to vote in a primary election, you have to declare a party.
You don’t have to join a party, mind you. “Oh, I’ll hit the pass with the Donner party! They look like they’ve got plenty of food.” No, it just means you have to vote straight ticket: all Republican or all Democrat.
The excuse given is that, after all, the whole idea of a primary is to pick among the candidates vying within their own party for an office. For instance, all three of the Sheriff’s candidates were Republican -- no Democratic candidate registered. Now the Democratic Party has limited time to put up a candidate, or Doug Harp automatically becomes Sheriff, running unopposed (unless an independent candidate challenges him).
But what if I want to choose among the Democratic Presidential candidates -- but among the Republican Congressional candidates? Sorry, no can do -- I have to go straight Republican or straight Democratic.
That’s just wrong.
Change the law to make it the way voting is supposed to be: a free for all. Let each voter pick the person they think is best, regardless of party. That doesn’t mean the election is over: one party’s candidate might win with fewer votes than the other, but that could very well change when he’s not splitting votes with other candidates from his party. Let people choose.
Although I’d just as soon not be chosen last after “None of the above” again.