Best form of government

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vote-button-hi-res-webAs I stepped behind the voting machine Tuesday, I scrolled first to the at-large primary candidates for city council.

I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t recognize one of the names. Of course this was the Democratic list of primary candidates. All three of our current at-large council members are Republican. No Democrat is likely to win in the fall.

Still, the Democratic Party had to come up with fresh, new candidates. I’m ashamed to admit I simply had failed to read the description of the candidates in the paper a few days before the primaries.

This was a particularly inexcusable oversight in my case. After all, for years as the morning paper’s editorial page editor, I had interviewed hundreds of candidates for office, city, county, state and national.

Further, I wrote many editorials before election day admonishing citizens to be sure to vote. I didn’t bother to urge voters to take the trouble of reading the paper’s endorsements. I just took it for granted they’d read the endorsements.

No surprise at all in today’s account of the primary election that the turnout beat an earlier low record in city elections of recent years. Yesterday’s turnout didn’t quite reach 10 percent.

After such a dismal turnout, I was sure to follow up with a day-after editorial decrying the low vote, scolding the no-shows for failing to do their duty as citizens.

Such editorials not only failed to stir the citizenry to a higher voter turnout in the next election. They were insulting. Low turnout in primary elections ignores the fact these days that citizens are less likely to identify with either major party.

In Indiana and most states, you have to declare your party preference. Here, you only see the candidates of the other party. So note that in the general election, when you don’t declare party affiliation, turnout is much greater.

Should we make voting mandatory? Repressive governments often do, with no greater freedom for citizens. A few advanced democracies require citizens to vote, namely Australia, Switzerland and Singapore.

But these countries don’t necessarily boast greater freedoms or more able political leaders than in democracies such as the United States where voting is a choice.

As I look at the outcome of Tuesday’s primary, I note that the election produced no surprises in races I was familiar with. Would a higher turnout have made any difference? I doubt it.

You can be sure that the turnout will be a quite different story in the fall city election. Oh, it might not exceed 50 percent by much. Then next year, a presidential year, voter turnout likely will match the turnout in most every other jurisdiction nationwide. Two-thirds or more of registered voters will show up.

It’s a great privilege to live in a democratic country. Sure, I’d like to see a higher voter turnout. I’d like for schools, public and private, to teach more about civic responsibility and ways to become engaged, even before they’re eligible to vote.

But as I was reminded yesterday, you have to pay attention to who the candidates are and what they stand for. That means every election, primary and general. I have no excuse for my ignorance of the candidates in some races yesterday.

Unlike so many citizens, though, I did show up.

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