By J SWYGART
The semi-annual exercise in the participation in a democratic society — that of going to the polls and casting a ballot — will soon be upon us. And it is fair to ask, especially as it pertains this year to voters in Decatur: Suppose they gave an election and no one came?
Voter turnout, not just in Adams County but nationwide, as a rule is generally lackluster these days, even in the best of times. Presidential election years may coax four out of 10 eligible voters to head to the polls. A gubernatorial contest may generate a 30 percent turnout.
This year, voters in Decatur will be asked to sling on their coats and pull on their gloves to cast a singular vote — for the at-large representative on Decatur City Council. It’s an important vote for an important position in the city. But how many locals will bother? If voter turnout exceeds 15 percent, I’ll be stunned.
The state of Indiana hasn’t helped, either, but allowing local election boards to place only the names of candidates for CONTESTED races on this year’s ballot. It is not an insignificant move. It is, however, an absurd one.
Say, for instance, that you want to give the mayor a pat on the back for a job well done, but are upset with your district’s council representative and plan to show that disgust by withholding a vote in that particular race. Or vice versa. Don’t think for a minute that those messages aren’t detected by candidates, who pore over campaign results like rabid dogs, looking to gauge the mood of the voting public.
And they are important messages to send, which makes the move to place only some of the candidates’ names on the ballot all that much more disturbing.
Voter apathy shouldn’t be a problem in Berne, with a dozen candidates seeking six contested seats — five city council spots and a mayoral contest. Only Clerk-treasurer Gwen Maller is running unopposed (and, therefore, her name will NOT appear on the ballot).
The race for the mayor’s seat in Berne is an interesting one, and difficult to predict. Republican Bill McKean, a veteran of 24 years on the city council, lost by a mere three votes to incumbent John Minch in the 2007 election, and is certain to have another strong showing this time around.
With Minch opting to stick to his pledge not to serve more than two terms, the Democrats have pinned their hopes on political novice Ray Gill. A member of the city’s first storm water utility management board, Gill to date has articulated in some detail his vision for Berne’s future in a concise manner. But, with local politics often being less about substance than about familiarity, McKean stands poised to cash in on more than two decades of public service — something that carries weight with voters, and deservedly so.
In the city council races, an upset in not on the horizon. The five incumbents have performed admirably, and have successfully crossed party lines on numerous occasions to put the interest of Berne residents first and foremost. The five challengers all seem to be worthy opponents, but the timing may not be right at this juncture to oust an incumbent. Nonetheless, the challengers should be applauded for stepping forward and showing a willingness to serve the public. And who knows; maybe their timing is right. I’ve been known to be wrong.
Whatever the case, voters can reasonably be expected to head to the polls in good numbers in Berne.
Decatur is a different story entirely, but our hope is that the importance of Tuesday’s election will not be lost on the majority of eligible voters and that the right to participate in the democratic process will be sufficient enticement.
Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, the county will open vote centers — as opposed to the current precinct-by-precinct balloting — and will put the names of ALL candidates on the ballot to advance the election day process even further.
The polls will be open from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Make time in your busy day to cast a ballot. It’s important.
The writer is the opinion page editor of the Decatur Daily Democrat.