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Constable's Notebook - May 2008

The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association has challenged the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association to a “vote off” to determine which neighborhood can turn out more voters for the upcoming May elections. The idea behind the challenge is to increase the clout of neighborhood associations like Hyde Park at City Hall by turning out more of their voters. While our city leaders are elected to represent all of Austin, the areas with the strongest neighborhood associations and voter turnouts tend to be more successful when it comes to receiving various city services, obtaining favorable zoning decisions, etc. In the last city election only 11% of registered voters bothered to exercise their right and responsibility to participate in our democratic process. Several years ago just 1% of voters turned out to elect an Austin Community College trustee. When so few citizens vote, other special interest voices have an easier time gaining considerable influence over the outcome of decisions that often are at odds with the best interest of neighborhoods.

The sad fact is low voter turnouts are not just limited to city elections. According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, turnout in U.S. presidential elections (about 50% over the last decade) ranks among the lowest in the world, just ahead of Guatemala and Columbia. The Italians posted the highest average turnout at 90%. Every other European country turned out more than 70% of its citizens. Our Canadian and Mexican neighbors averaged 60% and 58% respectively. Even voters in Afghanistan and Iraq (where voting is dangerous and inconvenient) turned out in numbers above 70%.

As Americans we are proud of our democratic heritage. Hundreds of thousands of Americans fought and died in wars to establish and preserve the right of citizens to vote in free elections. American taxpayers (and future generations) are currently funding two wars where the stated mission is to bring about free and fair elections. But most Americans don’t vote. According to a California Voter Foundation survey, 28% of respondents said that they were too busy. A Pew Research Center survey found that non-voters were not interested in politics and tended not to trust the politicians.

Politics is about public safety. It is about the type of education our kids receive. It is about roads, public transit and the fairness of our courts. Politics is about the quality of our environment, our ability to care for our health, where garbage dumped and homeless shelters will be placed. Politics is about every decision that is made in a free society – and those decisions are made by politicians for whom we have the right and responsibility to vote in or out. Democracy should not be about trusting politicians but about voting for the candidates who hold similar views, holding them accountable during their terms and re-electing or voting them out of office.

The May 10th ballot includes City Council positions, Austin Community College trustees, School Board trustees and AISD bond propositions. Early Voting runs from April 28 through May 6th. One of the best sources of information for the upcoming election is the Austin League of Women Voters’ Voters Guide which is available at all public libraries and online at www.lwvaustin.org.

I hope all citizens will accept Hyde Park’s challenge to participate in these important upcoming elections. See you at the polls!



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