Is Montgomery County No Longer a Democracy?
This week’s hearing regarding public campaign financing brings to light the frustration many of us feel about growing voter apathy in Montgomery County.
During the June primaries, Montgomery County had the lowest voter turnout of any county in the state… just over 16%. Sure, it was just a primary in an off-season election, and there were no major issues on the ballot. Yet this election WAS extremely important, as the County Executive and Council offices were up for grabs in a jurisdiction that rarely votes in Republicans. In effect, the primary BECOMES the true general election in Montgomery County since the surviving Democrats will almost certainly be victorious in the November general election.
Which makes you wonder if even FEWER voters will bother turning out November 4th.
You know the old saying: if a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, does it make a sound?
Similarly, if an election is held and no one turns out to vote, is it really a democracy?
Clearly, we live in a county that’s among the most educated and affluent in the country. So lack of access to information about the election shouldn’t be an issue. Heck, there were so many campaign signs clogging our lawns that you had to dodge them on your morning jog. And since more DC area residents are on social media than any other area of the country, there’s no lack of conduits for candidates to get the word out about their campaigns. Further still, organizations like Montgomery Community Media (where I work) posted scores of stories, candidate statements and debates across our TV channels and website for months.
With all that, less than one out of eight county voters bothered to turn out on primary day.
That is NOT a healthy democracy by any measure. And maybe even more important, the vast majority of voters seemingly feel so disconnected from their elected officials that they feel their votes don’t matter.
So what do we do?
Well, the die is already cast for this upcoming General Election. And while we certainly would encourage voters to do their duty, our attention should turn to elections to come. The 2016 cycle will be here before we know it, and unless we start now to understand voter apathy and move quickly to break down these barriers, Montgomery County may again lead the state in that dubious low-turnout derby. Let the glow from November 4th fade quickly, and our newly anointed county officials begin immediately to develop changes that employ new thinking on how to encourage more voters to engage in this vital process. Look into new technologies, use of early and absentee voting, weekend voting days, companies giving paid time off to vote, online voting… explore them all and more then move to implement. Hopefully a reengaged electorate will bring vital feedback on challenges facing Montgomery County, and how to tackle them effectively.
16% if voters shouldn’t decide our future. But the answers on how to fix that problem lie not with our elected officials but with ourselves. Let’s get started.