As the buzz and excitement over the last election cycle passes, Vermont and America are settling back to their daily grind. To the masses enormous change has been prophesized after the eight long years of the Bush administration. To many the country had overnight metamorphosed from a war fearing nation to a peace loving utopia, and the election of Barack Obama has solved all the nation’s problems. I wished it was that simple; however like a skeptical child I too do not believe in Santa Claus.
Although on November 4, many Vermonters and Americans joyfully went to the polls and casted their vote, I have so reservations 4. Supposed record turnouts flooded town halls and school gymnasiums around the state to cast their vote. However as triumphant as the day may sound, Democracy lost that day.
Compare November 4 with the image of the purple dyed hands of Iraqi’s lined up a few years ago to vote for the first time. Exuberant Iraqi’s flooded to the polls to vote for what was marketed as open and free elections(even though we all know they too were not really given choices). People all around the world have died for the right to vote; however here at home many take it for granted the right to vote or take it loosely and only vote for President. In Vermont, election officials trump up the statistic that 71.9 % of registered voters (326,822 of 454,466) voted on Election Day. In actuality, adjusting the numbers to voting age residents it equates to approximately only 66% of the populace, not at all earth shattering numbers.
Closer to my home, in Montpelier, the numbers are expectantly higher 78.3% (4827 of 6161) registered voters; however as Montpelier is a “Capital City” it is inexcusable that over 20% of its residents did not vote. In a year that some marked as being “the most important election” it seems unfathomable many of us did not deem it important to vote. While, although I am harping at the paltry state of affairs I do applaud Vermont Secretary of State Markowitz’s excellent job promoting elections and advancing civic engagement in Vermont, nevertheless the nations statistics are much worse. The dismal national numbers demonstrates democracy’s system wide failure. On this election cycle there was virtually no escaping from it, whether it was on Saturday Night Live, Monday Night Football or by merely seeing a candidate’s face on the side of bus. Election issues flooded all spectrums of society, and somehow still too large of a percentage showed lack of concern.
Furthermore, the failure of democracy displayed itself in other ways. Numerous individuals flocked to the polls tp proudly cast their vote for Obama, some for McCain and Nader(54 total in Montpelier), however many failed to inform themselves of who are what they voted outside of the presidential race. Debate was fervent for the presidential race but when it came to local based races apathy was rampant. Just A few days before the elections, I had people ask me who was running for governor. To much of my chagrin, the lack of awareness was even present on Election Day, in which I overheard an exiting voter tell a poster “I think I voted for the woman,” for governor and had only remembered Gaye Symington’s (for those outside of Vermont she was the Democratic candidate and former VT Speaker of the house) name after the pollster prodded her to. Although, the same voter proudly stated she voted for Obama, there was a complete lack of election awareness towards the other races. To highlight the general lack of election awareness, in the 2006 election I had some one seriously ask me who “Bernie” was. (For those outside of VT, Bernie is a rock star like figure in VT, the only “Socialist” US Senator, and for years US House Rep, and prior to that Mayor of Burlington.)
When Vermonters overwhelming vote for Barrack Obama for President and then simultaneously vote Jim Douglas (Republican Governor) for governor, a problem exists. I for one do not see the “great hope” in Obama as many others, nor do I see “the niceness” of Jim Douglass, nevertheless I do see vast fundamental differences in politics between Douglass and Obama. It reminds me of the past election cycle in which many yards were decorated with Bernie for Senate and Douglass for Governor signs. Bernie talks about Bush being the worst President ever, while Douglas previously was Bush’s campaign manager in Vermont and an ardent McCain support. You can not get that much more contrarian than that.
In addition to the lack of gubernatorial awareness, people ignored many of the “down ticket” races. In neighboring Barre, a recount of the election process determined that State Representative Leo Valliere lost to challenger Paul Poirer by twenty-five votes. To make matters worse is that sixty-six ballots were left blank, more than enough to make a difference in the results. In Montpelier, Rep Warren Kitzmiller, and Mayor Mary Hopper easily beat Jim Sheridan for Montpelier’s two House seats. As an independent Sheridan did not even launch a campaign. Not to disparage Rep Kitzmiller or Mayor Hopper who did face a primary opponent (ousted-rep Jon Anderson), there was virtually no interests in this election. Furthermore, statewide, many House races were left uncontested with only one candidate running.
There appears to be a major system wide failure of the election process and unfortunately a discussion is lacking. The democratic process’s demise can be attributed to many factors; however we as individuals should take most of the responsibility. In order for a democracy to properly function its citizens need to be engaged at all levels of a Democracy. Engagement first begins with awareness, and then follows with participation or action. Democracy can not function without people. One vote for a Vermont office holder carries greater weight than a Presidential vote, by that a Vermont elected official is more inclined to take into account your individual voice, as compared to the President in which you vote is one in a 140 million, as compared to in Montpelier your vote is one in 6161. In short, our voices have a stronger impact in the local communities’ over the national political circus. While it is important to be aware of the national and global situations, democracy demands our fullest attention at home.
So while, America and Vermont congratulates themselves on the supposed victory of Democracy, I challenge everyone to look at the glass half-empty and to work to make things better. There are fundamental problems with our Democracy, and the mere election of Barrack Obama is not going to solve it, the solution rests among us. In conclusion, I quote Former US Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil, Former US Speaker of the House, “All Politics is Local” statement as a means to ask a question, are you a Political Localvore?
“The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy