Some elections are won, some lost and some hardly matter – at least to voters. That’s the first of our three take-aways from the Nov. 7 election.
We had yet another election, but most of Stanislaus County hardly noticed. Final results were released Thursday, and at 21.5 percent we saw the lowest turnout for a countywide election, by percentage, in this century. Low turnouts don’t invalidate elections, but winning an election in which 80 percent of voters sit out hardly delivers a mandate. Besides, any election is expensive to conduct.
But many local politicians prefer low-turnout elections because they cost them less. Consider, in November 2016 some 176,000 votes were cast – three times the number cast two weeks ago. It’s a lot cheaper to convince one voter than to convince three. Easier, too, since politicians target those most likely to vote.
Starting in January, odd-year elections will be outlawed in those counties where the turnout falls off dramatically – i.e., Stanislaus County. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra wrote in July that charter cities in those counties are included.
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Don’t feel sorry for politicians who will now have to compete for attention (i.e., spend more) on ballots packed with national and statewide races. Elections are not held to benefit politicians or their sponsors; they’re conducted on behalf of the people. And they’re better when more people take part.
Take-away No. 2: It’s good to get voters riled up, but not too much.
Four years ago, Jake Wenger won Modesto Irrigation District’s District 4 seat by getting more votes than the other three candidates combined. But a series of stories in The Bee detailing high salaries, an imbalance in the district’s electricity and water rates and more, energized a lot of voters. Turnout grew 15 percent from four years ago, and those 750 additional voters all went for Stu Gilman – and then some.
Gilman walked precincts, got strong financial backing and polled 50.9 percent and earned his seat.
Perhaps voters in parts of Oakdale were tired of turmoil. In 2012, Gail Altieri and Linda Santos won Oakdale Irrigation District seats because they were angry over the district’s pumping and water-sale policies. In this election, incumbent Herman Doornenbal held onto his seat while like-minded Brad DeBoer won one; they will join Tom Orvis, who ran unopposed. The first order of business isn’t fixing the district, it’s fixing the board. That means respecting the rights of Santos and Altieri to ask tough questions and demand straight answers.
Take-away No. 3: Elections are not horse races and editorial writers aren’t handicappers. We don’t endorse candidates we think will win, but those we think should win. It’s fine that voters don’t always agree.
Still, some races are so clear, the candidates or causes so popular, the outcome is obvious. Measures S (extending the library sales tax) and Measure T (allowing Modesto to tax marijuana businesses) each got 82 percent of the vote; that has less to do with our endorsement than common sense.
Bill Zoslocki was almost as popular as the library, retaining his Modesto City Council seat with 79 percent of the vote. Jenny Kenoyer got 65 percent – a nearly 13-point bump from 2013. Voters agreed with us that both are doing something right.
Voters also believe Councilman Tony Madrigal is doing something right. He didn’t get our endorsement, but he got nearly 70 percent (1,405) of the votes cast.
Congratulations to Madrigal and many others – like Chinyere Jack, who will join the Stanislaus County Board of Education, and Charlene West and Adolfo Lopez, who won Modesto City Schools board seats.
The winners won’t have to worry about elections for four years. The rest of us won’t have to worry about countywide odd-year elections ever again.