Mon, May

Increase Voter Turnout by Making Government More Relevant

THE CITY-I was writing a column about the single most important way to increase voter turnout in elections when a news story popped up on television that provided me with a topical example. 

It is important to improve the opportunities for people to vote by discussing changes such as electronic voting, consolidating elections, declaring election day a holiday, encouraging voting by mail, ending the gerrymandering of districts, and removing politically-motivated barriers to voting. 

But all of this won’t do nearly as much good as the need for government to create reasons for people to vote. 

There seems to be no shortage of politicians who have suggestions to improve turnout, but there is a shortage of governments, non-profit organizations, and media outlets that have made an effort to survey voters and ask them why they don’t vote.  

Beyond that, no one is asking the rest of the voting-age population why they don’t think it’s important to register to vote.  Maybe someone needs to explain to them that being unregistered won’t keep them off jury duty. 

It’s difficult to try and solve a problem until you understand what caused it.  

I’m certain that any survey will show that our governments have become disconnected from the people they serve.  It has been my observation that too many people feel that it doesn’t matter who gets elected to public office because as soon as they take the oath of office their focus turns to themselves and their political futures.  

People will turn out to vote when there is a something on the ballot that affects them, as opposed to a special interest group, and see what happens. 

The news report that I just watched underscored that point in a very sad, but perhaps a very realistic way. 

A group of fourth graders in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire designed a civics lesson for themselves.  (Photo above.) They would draft a proposal for a state bill, get it into the system, and track its progress. 

Rather than tackle a complex subject such as improving the education system, the kids decided that the red-tailed hawk should be named the state’s official state raptor.  After all, state legislatures do this naming thing all time, usually at the urging of some industry’s lobbyists. 

They found a sponsor, and their proposal made it through the house committee. 

The kids traveled 50 miles to be in the house gallery when the bill was discussed by the full house.  

The discussion began with the usual round of compliments aimed at the children for making this effort.  Then things got ugly. 

Representative Warren Groen (R-Rochester), a staunch anti-abortionist, got up, explained how this bird rips apart its prey with its talons, and suggested that, therefore, the bird would be better suited to be the mascot for Planned Parenthood. 

Afterwards, the school’s principal explained that the children didn’t get the “disgusting” abortion reference, but he said that what disturbed the kids more was the way so many other legislators laughed at and belittled their bill. 

For example, Representative John Burt, another Republican, said, “… if we keep bringing more of these bills, and bills, and bills forward that I really think we shouldn’t have in front of us, we’ll be picking a state hot dog next.” 

Ultimately, the legislature showed the strength to stand up to the fourth grade lobby, and the bill lost.  Representative Groen remained puzzled at why so many people were taking about his remarks, and not about abortion.  I could be wrong, but maybe it’s because the bill wasn’t about abortion. 

I think that the children could have accepted a loss, because that’s the governmental process.  But it was totally uncalled for to be laughed at and humiliated by a few legislators who were acting less like leaders and more like schoolyard bullies. 

I would understand it if those children decided to never participate in government again. 

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A week earlier the same house used a voice vote to approve a bill proposed by a fourth grade class at a private school to designate the bobcat as the official state wildcat.  Go figure. 

Los Angeles’ neighborhood council system was created with the hope that each council would prosper by holding meetings that were welcoming places for people to attend.  Because some of the council meetings aren’t as warm and friendly as they should be, there has been talk for years about imposing mandatory civility training on board members. 

But as you read about what just happened in the New Hampshire House of Representatives it’s important to remember that those legislators, like members of the Los Angeles City Council, aren’t required to be trained in how to behave in a civil manner with each other and with the public.  

If there’s going to be mandatory civility training in Los Angeles, it should start at the top with the highest-paid legislators in the nation, and not with unpaid volunteers.  Leaders lead.


(Greg Nelson is a former general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, was instrumental in the creation of the LA Neighborhood Council System, served as chief of staff for former LA City Councilman Joel Wachs …  and occasionally writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at gregn213@cox.net.)




Vol 13 Issue 25

Pub: Mar 24, 2015