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Published: Friday, 11/8/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

COMMENTARY

Strong mayors and lazy voters

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

Two interesting questions from the aftermath of the mayoral election:

First: Is there something about the strong mayor system that is keeping us from re-electing our mayors?

Generally, in American politics, incumbency has been thought an advantage. But the long-standing presumption that a guy who did nothing terrible deserves a second term has shifted to the presumption that an executive must defend his record. Ask Jimmy Carter, George Herbert Walker Bush, or Ted Strickland about the virtues of incumbency.

And one cannot help but notice that only one strong mayor, since the reinstatement of the strong mayor system, has been re-elected: Carty Finkbeiner.

Are our expectations for the mayor’s office too high? Are our standards arbitrary and capricious?

Second: Is there anything we can do to increase voter participation?

Voter participation has been falling nationally for years. It is typically low in municipal elections. But only about 25 percent of registered voters came out to choose Toledo’s mayor Tuesday. That’s disgraceful.

Brave men and women died for this fundamental right. Yet 75 percent of us did not exercise it.

In a democracy, the people need to vote.

A self-selecting electoral elite makes some sense. Perhaps the more-involved people should dominate the process. Knowledge should be power. But, 25 percent participation? What if only 10 percent of us choose to exercise the franchise? Is this not the tyranny of a tiny minority? By abdication?

There must be a point at which low voter turnout so fundamentally compromises the concept of majority rule and one-man, one-vote that we have to do something different.

But what?

Better candidates?

The candidates are better than the voters. They put themselves on the line. Most voters can’t be bothered to roll out of bed.

Better issues?

We had some good issues in the mayor’s race and many debates.

Better news coverage?

Look at The Blade’s coverage of this race for mayor. I doubt an American newspaper has as thoroughly covered a mayoral race in the last 50 years.

If the real majority is dropping out, ceasing to participate even in a minimum way in civic life, declining to read or think about public life, that portends dire consequences for the First Amendment and for liberty.

Some nations fine for not voting. And you can make a case for this. We fine people for littering and speeding. Maybe there should be a fine for total abstention from citizenship. Or, failing that, an option for the voters to plunk for “none of the above.” Maybe both.

We need to give people an incentive for putting down the cell phone, the video game, and the beer and exercising some small degree of civic duty. In a democracy, the people need to vote.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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