November 6, 2013

Our View: Low turnout makes for an interesting election

This week’s election results include an infusion of youth and proof of the value of walking precincts.

Every election produces a few surprises, some welcome results and some disappointments. Tuesday’s election came through on all counts.

With the outcome of MeasureX – the 1 percent sales tax increase for Modesto – up in the air, we share thoughts on some of the races where the outcome appears certain.

First, we want to commend all those who ran for office. It is not easy. It is time-consuming and physically and mentally exhausting. There are plenty of people on the sidelines taking potshots at candidates, but most of them have never had the courage or commitment to run themselves.

Second, we applaud the candidates and supporters who were out Wednesday taking down election signs. That task is supposed to be done within 10 days, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be done immediately. There are no runoffs. The election is over.

• Jenny Ketchum Kenoyer won the District 5 seat on the Modesto City Council using old-fashioned shoe leather. She walked the entire district twice, making a point of meeting every voter. It’s a lesson for future candidates in this community. Citizens like to see their potential officeholders face-to-face.
• One of the arguments in favor of district elections is that more people will vote because they get a chance to know the candidates personally. That sure hasn’t happened in District 2, which includes downtown and south and west Modesto. In 2009, only 12 percent of the registered voters participated in the election. This year, depending on the number of uncounted ballots from that area, the turnout could be under 10 percent. Dave Geer won the seat in 2009 with 596 votes. Tony Madrigal won it this fall with 523 votes.
• With Madrigal’s election, the Modesto City Council will have four members who have received substantial campaign support from labor unions. That could be a big factor in labor negotiations. The contracts with all of the city's unions have expired or will expire this fiscal year.
• Several young people ran for key positions this year, and two came out big winners. Jake Wenger, who will be 30 on Friday, easily won a four-man race for Modesto Irrigation District Division 4. And 23-year-old Jordan Dickson employed some new technology and reached out to young people to win a two-year seat on the Modesto City Schools board. We think the infusion of youthful thinking will be good for both boards.
• The endorsement of the Modesto Teachers Association comes with money, manpower and signs, and once again, it carried some influence in the Modesto school board race. Four of the five candidates endorsed by the MTA were winners, including Dickson.

Once the vote count is complete, hopefully by Friday, and the results certified, the new officeholders will be sworn in and take their seats. That ceremonial stuff takes place in December. In January, the real work begins. Three governing bodies face the biggest challenges:

The Denair school board, with two new members, still faces daunting financial challenges that depend in large part on successful negotiations with the teachers’ union.

As we’ve reported numerous times, the MID board faces huge decisions about water costs, groundwater overcharge, distribution system improvements and keeping electricity costs as low as possible.

Finally, the outcome of MeasureX will determine whether the council has millions in new revenue to spend or whether it needs to make some serious cuts and then come back to voters with a smaller, leaner tax proposal.

Despite these critical issues, only about one in five registered voters bothered to cast a ballot in Tuesday’s election. That’s disappointing because it suggests that citizens are not engaged in important conversations about their community.

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