Last Tuesday in Trumbull County, out of 95,608 registered people, only 15,053 went to the polls to cast their votes. Only 16 percent chose to participate in democracy. Granted, there were not any ''hot button'' issues at stake, and far too many offices were not even contested, but that is a sad turnout.
You can usually be in and out of the polling place in 15 or 20 minutes, so why don't more people vote? Is it a good or a bad thing that people seem content to let 16 percent of the population decide the issues and candidates that will have a direct effect on them?
Ironically, it wasn't too long ago that I wrote an article decrying our government's efforts to provide extended times for voting in order to encourage more voters, and now I'm lamenting the low voter turnout. What gives?
The difference, I think, lies in understanding who the largest beneficiaries are of government. That differs considerably depending on whether you are examining national or local government.
There was a time when nearly every American shared the same benefits of our national government. They were protected by our armies and served by our federal courts, and they traveled on our national highways.
That changed dramatically in the last half century. Now, nearly half the people get a lot more from government than they put in. Nearly 50 percent do not contribute to funding government yet rely on it for their livelihoods. The remaining half foot the bills but get no more than the courts, armies and highways.
In this case, encouraging large numbers of casual voters risks having a large percentage of people who vote according to what's best for them personally, rather than what is good for our country.
On the local level, however, there is no big disparity in benefits received by citizens as local governments only provide services and do not provide livelihoods. That is, of course, unless you work for local government. And therein lies the problem of low voter turnout.
Smaller voter numbers means the vote of public workers takes on greater weight, ultimately making the costs of local government higher as they help elect politicians who will put their interests ahead of the public's interests. I'm not trying to castigate those who work in the public sector; it is only human nature to put one's interests first.
The same goes for local politicians. They're not bad people either, and they do look after our interests, but just not first. Are there any local politicians who don't look after the public worker first? Sure, but they are few and far between.
In my town, for instance, when I served as a councilman, most employees worked only seven-hour days while getting paid for eight. They got a paid hour for lunch. They received 12 paid holidays, 15 paid sick days, and four paid personal days. On top of all that, police could start collecting full retirement payments eight years before they actually retired.
Remember when the Youngstown police chief got a cash payment of more than $500,000 on the day he retired?
Consider the last election in my small town: Out of roughly 6,000 registered voters, around 1,000 people voted, which means that a large majority don't really care who represents them. The city workers on the other hand, who number a little over a hundred, care very much, because the people who get elected will have the say on how much they get paid.
Most of them have a spouse, parents, a set of in-laws and a few friends that they can influence, so they can easily ante up more than 500 votes in an election where only 1,000 are cast. I can tell you from firsthand experience that one of the first things new local politicians learn is that voting ''no'' on pay raises can lose you nearly half the votes in your next election.
So, on a national level, low voter turn out can be beneficial to the extent that the votes of the conscientious voter may be less ''diluted.''
On the local level, however, low turnout means a disproportionate amount of vote power goes to those who have a personal interest in who wins elections (public workers). In the end it means higher costs and less service.
Moadus is a Girard resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org