March 16, 2004 > Editorial: How to Fix an Election
Editorial: How to Fix an Election
The primary election is now over and most people will quickly forget about the recent contests until the next barrage of political advertisements and commentary surface in September and October. Attention spans are short and the politicos know this. They also know that when small numbers of the voting population bother to vote, it is easy to retain seats or gain them through name recognition or developing a hard core group of activists.
This isn't rocket science and only takes a moment to figure out. If the number of people voting is relatively small, a smaller number of votes are necessary to win a contest. Let's think of very small numbers to make the point. Club Turkey has 10 voting members. I want to be the president of the club and know that only 5 members bother to vote. In this case, I can win with a majority of 3 votes. Since I represent one vote, my goal is for two others to vote for me. I happen to know that one of the members wants the club to work on a project that will be heavily influenced by the president and a deal is struck for his vote. Another member is interested in gaining a position that I will appoint as president. With that promise, I now can be elected with 30% of the voters!
If we escalate this example to local politics, it can also apply. When politicians are interested in retaining or moving into a position of power, deals can be made when the voters show little interest. A relatively small group can influence the election and by seeking out activists who will get out the vote through name recognition, promises or whatever, an election is won. This is not illegal, nor does it necessarily result in a bad choice, but it is an abdication by the general public of their duty to safeguard their community. When people vote simply based on name recognition or party labels, it becomes easy to know the outcome prior to an election. The "fix" is in and deals can be made based on a "known" outcome.
An example of this type of thinking was evident during the recall election for Governor of the state. Political circles were humming with a scenario of who would succeed who and how some with term limits could step into new spots as everyone moved up the political food chain. Arnold threw a monkey wrench into the works and the machine had to wait. Now, if you are betting that I am a Republican, you are wrong. I have not registered with any party for years. My preference is to understand the candidates position and vote my conscience, not a party label. The party politics distress me, but what is much more bothersome is the uncaring attitude of voters.
The example of Club Turkey changes dramatically when all ten members vote. Now I am faced with trying to sway 6 voters. If I am making promises, it is difficult to promise the same things to everyone. In this scenario I need a realistic platform of ideas that will satisfy a majority of the club members and I cannot simply make deals or depend on the few to outweigh the others. I am now responsible to the majority.
Although there will always be special interest groups who can sway people with rhetoric, the more of us that turn out at the polls, the more attention must be paid to our vote. It is disheartening to hear of low voter participation at each election. Let's hope that November is a turning point and voters pay attention to the candidate's vigor and ideas rather than a familiar name without purpose. Significant problems occur when votes are given freely without inspection of the candidate. Local boards and elected bodies are deciding serious issues, sometimes with millions of dollars at stake. Candidates will begin to make themselves known. Voters must spend time thinking of their philosophy what they have accomplished (or not!) in the past ...and what that means for the future.