The November 5th election is in the rearview mirror, but before it entirely recedes from memory, this column is going to examine the voter turnout issue discussed in an extensive article in the November 16 Record-Journal. While Wallingford had the best turnout in the state among municipalities with 18,000 or more eligible voters, the 44.2 percent showing was far, far below the percentage that showed up in 2012 to vote for the president of the country.
While this phenomenon is lamentable, there are plenty of reasons it exists. Here are three: hero worship of the president, money spent getting out the vote, and the job descriptions themselves.
First of all, we tend to invest in the President of the United States almost godlike qualities. It is an absurd irony that our forefathers fought a war to overthrow a king, and now – two hundred-plus years later – we treat our elected President as if he were one. Perhaps it is a part of human nature to yearn for guidance and leadership from one particular individual, but the groveling, fawning media attention that is invested in that one person in recent decades is bewildering. How does some poor chief executive of a municipality compete with the gushing adoration that pours forth from the broadcast media concerning every utterance that issues from the White House? Answer: he or she doesn’t, and that difference in treatment is reflected in every election.
Secondly, the financial resources dedicated to getting out the vote for a president of the country versus a mayor is another reason for the disparity in voter turnout. In a local election, no candidate can command the money needed to build much of a get-out-the-vote apparatus. On the other hand, the national political party machines spend millions on election day badgering anyone who can fog a mirror (and in Chicago, that isn’t even a requirement) to go to the polls.
And, supposedly in the interest of higher voter participation, many states – including ours – are now allowing and encouraging the absurd practice of election day registration to give this harassment of the uninformed even more of an impact.
Thirdly, take a look at the differences in the jobs. The President rides around in a $250 million airplane making grand speeches, brings traffic to a standstill within a twenty-mile radius of his presence, has a staff of hundreds attending to his every whim, and has squads of television trucks and starry-eyed correspondents following him around waiting for that magical moment when he appears. He wages war with other countries, spends trillions of dollars of money borrowed from our great grandchildren, and travels the globe hobnobbing with other potentates.
And what of the chief executive of Wallingford? What’s his lifestyle? We give him a used former police car to drive himself around in, an office staff of two (although I would put Joan Stave up against any staff member in Washington), and yet there’s controversey about him about cutting down trees on Center Street. Where’s the glory in all that?
Is it any wonder that there are people who are actually unaware that there was an election on November 5th?
Please do not misunderstand me. We all should know that, on a day-to-day basis, the mayor of a community has a far greater impact on our real quality of life than someone three hundred miles away in Washington DC. I am just saying that our society is celebrity-obsessed, and the President of the United States has – especially of late – become the Celebrity-in-Chief.
There is no way for a mayor to compete with that. I am just grateful that we have so many men and women of competence that we can rely on day in and day out to do this incredibly important job out of a sense of duty to the community. When it’s all said and done, these are the people who make this country work.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford Town Councilor.