Overton: Low voter turnout unacceptable

BY JON OVERTON | MAY 09, 2013 5:00 AM

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On Tuesday, approximately 85 percent of Johnson County voters decided against taking time to fill in a bubble at a special election for a proposed $43.5 million bond to build the proposed justice center.

Considering the puny voter turnout, it would be most accurate to say that the people of Johnson County decided not to decide on the proposed center.

This wasn’t just some shrink-dink project. The Johnson County Jail and Courthouse are terribly outdated and are failing to fulfill the county’s current needs, and the justice center’s price tag was no paltry sum.

These issues are serious, whether or not you agree with building the center. It behooves voters to pay attention to local politics, especially concerning large-scale proposals such as the justice center.

Of course, this level of turnout isn’t new. Before the election, County Auditor Travis Weipert told The Daily Iowan that he expected a few hundred more votes than were actually cast. Election returns from the Auditor’s Office show that this level of turnout is fairly typical with the occasional spike though it virtually never surpasses 50 percent.

When voter turnout is this low and elected officials don’t expect many votes, we can’t reasonably expect them to share the general population’s concerns.

I trust that Johnson County’s local officials are decent people, but why should they care about those who don’t vote?

Frankly, in the cold political calculus, those who don’t vote don’t matter. If a politician wants to win re-election, he or she must appeal to people who actually vote.

Sure, local politics may not seem that exciting. These officials can’t nuke the planet to hell like the federal government can. But they make decisions on spending local tax dollars, the Police and Fire Departments, and road maintenance to name a few areas, all of which are vital to a functioning society.

Some may feel like understanding politics is complicated, that it’s not for them.

But it’s quite simple. Read, talk to people, make a decision, go to your local precinct, fill in a bubble, and congratulations, you just voted.

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