I’ve been doing telephone surveys for the gubernatorial candidate of my choice this summer. The final question asks which candidate the person plans to vote for in November. A surprising number of people don’t know who is running. I hear answers like: “Whichever one is the Democrat.” Or, I don’t know who’s running, but I vote straight Republican.” One responder asked which party Matheson belonged to. A rather curious question since it’s been over 30 years since Scott Matheson was governor of Utah.
The League of Women Voters works to make it easier for people to get registered and to vote, and I agree with that in principle. However, one part of me hesitates to join the effort. If people don’t care enough to register, do they care enough to be informed? I’m well aware that in the past so-called literacy tests were used to disenfranchise African-American voters in our country. Still, I wish citizens could be required to show at least a minimal knowledge of candidates and issues before casting their ballots.
Americans are big on national news. Everyone has an opinion on BP, offshore drilling, the economy, and health care. Unfortunately, these are the issues about which ordinary citizens can do little. I know. Last year I e-mailed the President not to commit more troops to Afghanistan. Did he listen?
While we can’t do much about national issues, citizens do have much more influence over local issues—and local issues generally affect our lives more than national issues. Two years ago, Davis County citizens circulated petitions and contacted state legislators and officials to defeat a polluting petroleum coke power plant proposed for our highly populated area. Unlike e-mailing the Pres, I get immediate, personal responses when I e-mail my state legislators. They don’t always change their vote on issues I support, but we have a meaningful dialogue. They know their voting districts are small enough that my vote and my support do matter to them.
I think the main reason most citizens don’t get involved in local politics is that they know what’s going on. With the exception of juicy scandals, local issues seldom make TV news. Local news is found in local newspapers—or online for those with the patience to sift through the legislature’s agenda or to attend city and county council meetings. Our national leaders can hardly burp without extensive media coverage, but local politicians are too often free to legislate their own interests under the cloak of public apathy. Voting is an American right, but voting is not enough.