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February: Month for Valentine’s Day — and Voter Apathy

There it was, emblazoned on the editorial page of today’s Detroit News: “February elections a disservice to voters.” Always one to take voting pretty seriously, I had to check it out.

School districts and municipalities are conducting elections throughout Michigan on Feb. 25. In many cases, they will be asking voters to raise taxes.

But placing issues affecting a taxpayer’s wallet on low-turnout, mid-winter ballots is not good government.

If schools or communities want to come before residents for tax increases, they should wait until the November election, when voter turnout is traditionally much higher. At very least they should wait for August’s primary election.

Even in the best of conditions, February elections have poor voter participation rates. Lack of awareness of the balloting, plus cold weather, tend to keep people at home and away from the polls. In some cases, residents may be out of state living at a winter home. Absentee ballots are an alternative, but mid-winter applications for them are usually low.

The editorial had certain facts right. Voter turnout for the February elections is poor. Worse than poor, it’s downright pathetic. More pathetic, though, is blaming it on “cold weather.” A little research shows the turnout for the mayoral election in Detroit in November 2013 was about 25%.

75% of eligible voters just couldn’t be bothered? The unemployment rate hovers right around 17% in Detroit. There were 333 murders there in 2013. Former mayor turned convicted felon Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced a mere month before the November election for stealing and squandering the public’s money. But three out of four of you didn’t think choosing a new leader was all that important?

Now I get it. Cold weather must be a fancy new way of saying apathy. That’s what you really meant, right Detroit News? Poor election rates aren’t caused by weather or lack of awareness. How about complete indifference? Laziness? Lack of concern? Am I getting closer?

The women’s suffrage movement in the United States reached its zenith in 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution. Michigan was one of the first states to ratify it. It’s hard to believe it took less than 100 years for women here to stop giving a damn.

In Saudi Arabia, women will be allowed to cast ballots for the first time ever beginning next year. Maybe. If their guardian agrees to accompany them, seeing as they can’t be in public without one. Not to mention that whole pesky inability to drive thing.

Meanwhile, in Michigan it’s just too darn hard to hop in the car and go.

In 2005, images of women flooded the internet, purple thumbs aloft, celebrating post-Hussein elections in Iraq. Men and women alike finally felt like they had a voice. Voter turnout that December topped 70%. That is amazing considering there was a real possibility of getting shot or blown up at polling locations. Voter turnout in the US for the 2004 presidential election topped 58%. To my knowledge there weren’t even billy club laden Panthers at polling locations that year.

We aren’t unique in our ability to vote. But I would have hoped we, as Americans, would treasure a right that so many have died to protect. If you’re in Michigan on February 25, I hope you consider the sacrifice others made so that you could take a few moments out of your day to help make decisions that will impact you, your family, your neighbors and your community. Because driving in the snow isn’t as bad as navigating a car bomb.

Because using the internet to check your sample ballot is a lot easier than begging your guardian to take you to a polling place. Because no matter how bad your government is, good government is only a vote away.

That is, if you aren’t too lazy to get to the polls.

Links:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/03/detroit-murder-rate_n_4531960.html

http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140218/OPINION01/302180007/Editorial-February-elections-disservice-voters

http://www.freep.com/article/20131105/NEWS01/311050165/voter-turnout-detroit-19-percent-absentee

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women’s_suffrage_in_the_United_States

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/22/international/middleeast/22iraq.html?_r=0

Image: Courtesy of: http://www.meneame.net/story/londres-quiere-montar-propia-torre-eiffel-para-juegos-2012

Pauline Wolak

About the author, Pauline Wolak: Pauline is a proud wife and mother of three. When she isn't being the world's greatest Girl Friday, she is volunteers her time as a school librarian and athletic director. Pauline enjoys football, politics, good beer, and arguing with anyone. She's a devout pro-life Catholic. Pauline believes in the 1st Amendment and uses it on a daily basis, most notably to ambush unsuspecting family members in political debate! You can find her work here at Clash and at redknucklepolitics.com. Follow her on twitter at @MiStateFan. View all articles by Pauline Wolak

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