I was speaking with a friend yesterday about the recent municipal elections in Biddeford.
“I bet you’re glad it’s over,” he said.
“Over?” I responded. “It’s hardly over. Already candidates are lining up for local legislative races that will be decided next November. There’s always another election around the corner.”
He shook his head and smiled. “Who cares about who we send to Augusta,” he said. “It’s not like it matters.”
It’s understandable that most people feel a bit burned out by the political process.
Only a few weeks after arguing and ranting about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, political junkies turned their attention to controversial referendum questions pending in South Portland and Portland. While local candidates were seeking city council and mayoral seats, Congressman Mike Michaud, the likely Democratic nominee for the Blaine House, announced that he was gay and thus strategically overshadowed Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s announcement about his own official re-election campaign this week.
I almost expected Independent Eliot Cutler to announce that he was bi-sexual, pledging allegiance to neither heterosexual nor homosexual preferences; a true Independent — just like Maine — in a desperate attempt for some much needed press during a tough news cycle.
It’s no wonder that voters have become a bit apathetic and cynical about politics.
For the record, I could not care less about a candidate’s sexual orientation. I also don’t care about their favorite color or whether they like their chicken original or extra crispy. I want the candidates and the media to focus on the issues that are affecting every day people who are struggling under the weight of a difficult economy. I want to hear new ideas. I want to hear each candidate describe their vision.
Although I am pleased that an overwhelming majority of voters in my hometown chose vision over fear, positive over negative; I also expect those who won their seats to get real busy, real quick and to focus with laser-precision on economic development, creating streamlined efficiencies and encouraging private investment.
Voter turnout in Biddeford this year hit a 10-year low. Fewer than one-third of the city’s voters bothered to cast a ballot. Sure, there were no sexy referendum issues like a casino or marriage equality driving people to the polls; but the decisions we made yesterday impact every part of our lives: our roads, our schools, public safety, our sewers and yes . . . our tax bills. The people chosen on Tuesday will be responsible for making decisions that could have long-lasting impacts.
So why was voter turnout so pathetic? The weather was beautiful. There were no long lines at the polling places. What gives?
It’s always difficult to gauge voter sentiment, but there are a few likely reasons:
a.) Voters are content with the way Biddeford is being managed. They sensed Alan Casavant had a commanding lead and, therefore, their vote was unnecessary;
b.) Voters are upset with the way Biddeford is being managed and feel disenfranchised. You can’t fight City Hall;
Or c.) the most likely reason: voters just didn’t care. Period.
If you belong to any of the above three groups, you are an idiot.
Members of Group A risked a potential loss and a step backward for the city. Members of Group B missed a real opportunity to send a powerful message about their discontent; and members of Group C ought to be required to take a remedial civics lesson.
Voting is important. You are an equal shareholder in this community. Your voice matters. Imagine how different the election would have been if only 20 percent more of the city’s register voters had bothered to participate?
Of course, it’s too late to speculate. And those who did vote sent a pretty clear message. They want a fiscally responsible council. They want a positive and professional mayor leading the city. They are not afraid of making long-term investments in their community (all five state bond questions passed easily).
Sure, it’s more fun to get wound up about a particular, controversial issue, but if you can’t be bothered to exercise your civic duty, then be prepared to accept whatever comes down your path.
Voters tend to turn out for things they want; things they support.
Throughout this last election cycle, many of Casavant’s loudest critics failed to articulate who they supported. They were against someone, but for no one. A sure-fire prescription for voter apathy and a stunning loss at the polls.
Sure, Casavant’s opponents split their opposition, but looking at the results tells an even stronger story. Even if you add the total votes of each opponent, Casavant’s numbers were still higher. Fifty-seven percent is a clear victory. Winning each of the city’s seven wards reaffirms the voters’ decision.
If the opponents are struggling to accept the results, maybe they ought to spend a little less time bitching and a bit more time convincing their friends and neighbors to get to the polls two years from now.
I said it before, and I will say it again: Campaign signs do NOT win elections; Facebook or other social media tools do NOT win elections; debates or endorsements do NOT win elections. What wins elections? It’s about how many people you get to the polls. Game over.