No, I didn’t plan to publish this a year from now and get the date setting wrong. Most of us actually do have an election coming up. This year. In just over a couple weeks in fact. Nov. 3rd is actually an election day, the off-year election, except I hate and wish to banish that phrase “off-year” as there is no such thing — even for those of us who actually don’t have an election, there are things to be done. Call it an odd-numbered year, and then consider something more odd: that we have to plead with frequent-voting Democrats to vote.
Normally I wouldn’t be asking the readers of a liberal blog just to vote. Delay that. In an even-numbered year, I would’t be asking readers here to vote because voting could be safely assumed, and the appeals would be to get down to your local campaign office and help knock on doors, or something else useful. Not that I’m not making such an appeal, but the fact is when it comes to local elections, Democrats have a tendency to skip them. It’s anecdotal, but I’ve heard people who never miss a midterm say they just don’t care about city council or whatever is up this time. The terrible levels of voter turnout in odd-numbered years (for present purposes, I’m including even-numbered year elections that happen in odd months) suggest that the anecdotes are right. A lot of Democrats just don’t care.
A recent study finds that voter turnout in local elections is trending down. That’s just for the 144 largest cities, and I know of no studies of smaller cities, but I also have no reason to think the story is any different. In fact, in a recent editorial calling on voters in Duluth to approve their RCV (ranked choice voting) referendum, the Minneapolis Star Tribune cited low turnout in several municipal primaries, “Turnout was abysmal on Aug. 11 in St. Louis Park (3.6 percent in a mayoral primary), Bloomington (4.9 percent in City Council District 2) and Maplewood (16 percent in a five-way contest for council member at large).” I generally support RCV, but my concern here is the amount of voting rather than the method. RCV does eliminate these single-digit primaries, but I can’t tell that it increases general election turnout.
So the problem of general election turnout remains and, to get blatantly partisan about it, more so for Democrats than Republicans. Republicans have figured out that Democrats skip local elections and made a smart strategic decision to go after local races. What I hear around Democratic circles is it’s a national problem. Here in Minnesota, the state Republicans made a strategically smart decision. They’re painfully aware of their recent difficulties winning statewide races (their last win was governor in 2006, Tim Pawlenty’s reelection, and even that required a liberal with a third party taking many more votes than Pawlenty’s winning margin — it’s that bad), plus the MNGOP loses most congressional elections, and even with self-packing, they’re just keeping even in state legislative elections. However, they did decide to target local races. Democrats aren’t watching mayor and city council and so on, but Republicans are, and they’re winning where they shouldn’t. Or at least winning more easily than they should.
I’m not going to suggest the school board or county board has as big an impact on your life as Congress, but their impact is still a lot more than nothing. Nonetheless, Democrats are bad at voting, bad at running, and bad at paying attention. Part of the problem is local offices are usually non-partisan, and too many Democrats take that as a signal that parties shouldn’t get involved. Our opponents appear to have fewer such qualms. They’re trying to get Republicans elected. So not only do more Republicans get to have that impact on your life, but they win more offices that become the bench for partisan offices. Yes, lots of legislators and congressmen got elected while making their first run for office, but usually candidates have been elected to something else. That tends to be the biggest pool of candidates, and that pool has a redder color than it ought.
In fact, when we see articles like this about how the GOP is disintegrating from self-inflicted nuttiness, we should stop a moment a remember that other than at the presidential level, the GOP keeps winning. Our presidential wins tend to obscure that fact, but think about what Democrats hold other than the presidency, and the answer is — not much. At least at the local level, we know that problem — we’re not showing up. I mean we’re not voting, we’re not running, we’re not supporting our local candidates. OK, obviously, we’re winning some things, and we’re not ceding everything local everywhere. We tend to win big cities. Outside the big cities however, there is too much conceding to Republicans going on. Not there’s a correct amount of conceding, but let’s call it enough conceding to be a problem in terms of cities and counties having redder governments than their even-numbered year votes would suggest, and these GOP local office holders offer the GOP a bench of potential candidates. And of course, our own occasional embarrassment when the world finds out what sort of nutjobs we let win elections. Or are we OK with our school board being the one that makes headlines for trying to remove evolution and global warming from the science curriculum? Do you know who’s running for school board, or are you fine with whoever wins?
Think any Milwaukee County, WI, Democrats wish they’d bothered to vote when their sheriff makes one of his occasional appearances on Fox News to say something crazy? Do Democrats in Douglas County, OR, where the Umpqua Community College gun massacre happened, regret sitting out the election that made a Sandy Hook truther their sheriff? What went through the minds of Democrats who skipped the mayoral race in Irving, TX after the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed revealed to the rest of the country that they have an islamophobic mayor who, of last late last month, seemed to still think he was up to something?
It’s too late to run this year of course, but not too late to find out who your local candidates are and not too late to help whoever is running against the nutjobs and ideologues. In Minnesota, though it’s gotten late to vote no-excuse absentee by mail, you can vote in person right now. Contact your city hall. Go to the Secretary of State’s web site to see who is on your local ballot.