By Editorial Board
Voter turnout statistics for the recent municipal elections suggest our communities are engulfed by disillusionment and apathy.
Less than a third of our coverage area’s 38,050 voters expressed any preference over their incoming tax collectors, mayors, and commissioners. This means in any typical race won on slim margins, an official legally representing an entire ward or municipality will have gained office on the votes of little more than 15% of their constituents. So much for representative democracy.
Some areas are particularly conspicuous for their poor turnout. Only 21.7% of Stowe’s total electorate cast ballots this year, while in one McKees Rocks voting district, less than 10% turned out.
The small boroughs of Thornburg and Rosslyn Farms both tallied above 50%, illustrating two bright spots. But on the whole the numbers were bleak, as they typically are for local elections.
What makes this so damning, though, is the fact that just 12 months prior, more than 75% of the entire county electorate turned out to vote for their preferred presidential candidates. In Ingram, where two weeks ago only 28.1% of voters participated, more than 80% cast votes in the 2020 election. And even in McKees Rocks’ civically disinclined Ward One’s first district, nearly three times more voters hit the polls last year.
For whatever reason, most voters it seems put far more stock in their elected representatives over on Pennsylvania Avenue compared with those who occupy seats within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or even their own borough or township. It’s not clear why though.
In the time it takes Washington bureaucrats to pass a single overblown bill, your local officials could have easily altered your tax rates, hired a slate of new police officers, repaved your local roadways and brought in outside developers ready to invest in your community main street.
They could have done this responsibly or irresponsibly. Or, they could have done absolutely nothing because they know their electorate is entirely preoccupied with the D.C. circus. That part is on you, voters.
Despite the voting trends, local elections are essential to our civic fabric. Our public schools, overseen by elected representatives, will shape the next generation of Americans – not congressional representatives preoccupied instead with their next election.
While national politicians continually brawl over police reform or support, elected representatives in your township or borough exercise direct oversight of your public safety officers. If you’re energized by this issue – one way or another – express it in the local arena.
A slate of local judges and magistrates were also on the ballot during this poorly participated election.
We sweat and fret whenever a Supreme Court justice seat is up for appointment but we pass up on the chance to have a say in who adjudicates our parking fines, our child custody cases, our nephew’s drug offense (we know he’s a good guy at heart, but do they?)
It’s not only that local races have a bigger direct impact on our lives, our votes correspondingly have a bigger direct impact on those races.
Some 7 million votes separated Joe Biden from Donald Trump when all was finally tallied last November, and for many voters, their states are so reliably red or blue from year to year their singular votes are easily swallowed up by the electoral college. Many local races, however, are decided by just one or two ballots. Your vote, your yard sign, your door-knocking on behalf of a candidate you support, could make all the difference.
The 2020 numbers show we can turn out when we want to – let’s start caring again about local politics.
We’ll check back in after 2023.