Seriously people: I’m sick of your crap. It’s election year, and you (we) won’t shut up about the Presidential election. On Facebook, on Twitter, in person, the big ticket race is all we hear and talk about. Big Bird! Binders of women! Horses and bayonets!
But here’s a little secret: it doesn’t matter. We live in DC. We are so reliably Democratic, I don’t know why Governor Romney even bothered getting on the ballot. From what I can tell, neither nominee has lifted a finger to court our votes. So while I know it’s not very correct to say your vote doesn’t matter, your vote doesn’t matter.
At least not for the Electoral College. But you know where it does? Local elections. That’s right: boring, unsexy, local elections, where issues are decided that will directly and immediately affect us, as well as shape our city for years to come, matter.
In 2008, 265,853 people out of 426,761 registered voters voted in the Presidential election— just a shade over 62% voter turnout. Very nice, pat yourselves on the back. But in the same election, there were 168,469 undervotes for the DC Council at-large seat, or basically blanks. Yes, yes, you can vote for two candidates for at-large, but that still means there were a whole lot of you who didn’t bother to vote in the local election EVEN THOUGH YOU WERE ALREADY AT THE POLLS!!!
You know who ended up winning? Kwame Brown and Michael Brown. How’s that working out for us?
You think that’s bad? When Kwame Brown was subsequently elected to Council Chair (did you bother to vote?), an election was held on April 26, 2011 to fill the at-large Council seat. How many of us bothered to show up? Or go to early voting? Or get an absentee ballot? How many?
46,967 people, or 10.3% of registered voters. I don’t want to hear 90% of you complain about Vincent Orange. Because that’s who we got.
Sure, I care about the national stuff, but I have to send my kid to school. I have to be able to walk down the street safely. I have to be able to rely upon and trust my Councilmembers. That will only happen if they know we’re engaged and care about their performance. I know, trust me, I know, that many (most?) of our choices are crap. But not all of them, and more good ones will show up if they see an active, engaged citizenry.
We’re told this year, much like we’re told every four years, that “This Is The Most Important Election Ever!” Forgive my cynical side, but that’s not how it works. We can’t create a gigantic carnival every four years and call that Democracy. Perhaps you’re confusing it with the Olympics?
Democracy has to happen at the ground level, with less hoopla and more consistency. The real work is not the Big Questions: it’s the multitude of small problems. In the last week, and thanks to the miracle of social media, I’ve talked with many of you about speed cameras, about public safety, and good god, the never ending quagmire of local schools. Those are issue we don’t get to check a box and then ignore/complain about for four years. They are ones that require constant engagement. Well, except for the speed cameras: just stop speeding, dammit!
Look, civic engagement, like math, is hard. I get that. I’m not asking you to go to god-awful public meetings or any of that stuff. We all have lives. I understand. But I suspect many of us focus on the national election because it’s easy. It’s distant. It’s almost like pulling for a sports team: you feel involved, you wear the jersey, you cheer with like-minded folks, but really it’s someone else out there in an arena.
That’s fine, have at it. But you can cheer for the Nationals, vote for President, AND take a few minutes to pay attention to the at-large race this year.
I’ll make it easy on you, and tell you who to vote for next week and what it’ll all mean for Capitol Hill down the road.
But better yet? Do your own damn research.