Voter apathy hits close to home

It’s official – Americans believe the current Congress is the worst of their lifetimes.column shots.qxd

Sadly it’s also official that most of those Americans will do nothing about that fact. With an all-time low approval rating of 9 percent, you would think voters would be turning out in droves to replace these “representatives,” who don’t seem to be representatives at all. But that’s not the case – and it’s not just a big-scale problem, but something that hits right here on a local, up-close level.

That was seen all too clearly in November, when only 1,157 voters participated in a $4.05 million school bond issue. Mustang School District covers about 73 square miles, with a population of 46,023 as of the 2010 Census. As of Monday, 26,438 people living in the district were registered to vote. Yet only 1,157 of those individuals – less than 4 percent – chose to take the time to vote on an issue that impacts not only students and their parents, but every homeowner living within those district boundaries.

It doesn’t matter whether you were for or against the November bond issue or what your political affiliation might be – there is a serious problem when so many of the people who could participate in the election process choose not to do so. Yet, social media and news sites are rife with people who are unhappy with the status quo of our country, who complain about city, state and federal government. Why are these people not speaking out in a way that could make a difference – at the ballot box?

I suppose it’s, at least in part, because sometimes it seems like a single vote won’t make a difference. In a system where the Electoral College determines so much of the outcome in a presidential election, it’s understandable that people might lose sight of the impact their individual vote could make. That doesn’t hold water closer to home, though.

In a 2012 El Reno City Council race, the victor won a seat by 19 votes. Mustang’s November bond issue lost by about 30 votes. Certainly, every single vote made a difference in those cases.

On Feb. 11, Mustang School District officials will try once again to pass a bond issue, this time for $7 million. More than 26,000 people will be eligible to vote in that election, but will they turn out? Will they have a say in the outcome of this issue or will they just take to Facebook, to Twitter, to online news sites, to express their opinions. And are those opinions valid if those individuals cannot – or chose not to – take the time and effort to cast a ballot?

That same election will see three candidates vie for a seat on Mustang City Council. Will 180 voters – as happened in 2011 – determine who will represent the people from Ward VI? These elected officials determine everything from zoning and contracts to laws affecting everyone within Mustang city limits. They are individuals who not only represent Mustang’s 12 square miles but who also reflect on those of us who live in the surrounding areas. And yet only 180 people took the time out of their day to decide who would represent their interests.

This is astounding to me. People in the United States speak about freedom – the word is waved about as much as the flag is used to symbolize our country. We are blessed to live in a country where we are free to cast a vote, to make our own decisions about who should represent us and yet so few of us even bother. Why?

The other day I was in a local restaurant and listened to a group of middle-aged men talking about how apathetic their children are, how they can’t get them to care about what’s going on around them. Yet, it was clear only one of those men – who I recognized as business leaders in our community – had participated in the November bond election. If these individuals don’t take part, who will?

It’s time to make a New Year’s resolution, to stop standing on the sidelines moaning about problems and start being part of the solution. Voting is one of our most precious rights – come February, I hope more of us will go to the polls and celebrate the freedom we have to be a part of our community, who represents us and what happens in it.