Voter turnout on the Kenai Peninsula, as elsewhere in America, tends to be dismal. Kenai Peninsula Borough wide turnout in 2012 was 13 percent. Last year’s Homer District 1 and District 2 surface as more enthusiastic at 19.7 and 17 percent respectively, but even that sits well below a grudgingly ideal turnout of at least 30 percent.
City elections call out local loyalties that paint a slightly more admirable picture of civic duty. Last year, city wide, the turnout rose to 21 percent, if “rising” isn’t hyperbole in this case.
What’s going on here?
Well, several theories, according to those who speculate on voter interest or lack thereof. One oft-blamed culprit is apathy. The sense that your vote may not matter, that “They” will vote political term limits in or out, with or without you. Sales tax holiday? Politicians will take it away when and if they wish, is a common thought
But is this a fair or accurate assessment? Yes, but … Voter input matters on this issue, even if the ballot question continually pops up. Asking again about term limits shows they didn’t believe us the first or second or third time. But this one adds a plea in part B of Prop 3.
The second part of the proposition on term limits asks if you’d like to see term limits changed from two terms to three terms.
Public officials, at least so far, have kept their hands off revoking term limits that reduce the number of years borough officials can run for office to two terms. They’ve danced perilously close through ordinance, such as one proposed earlier this summer by Assemblyman Hal Smalley to simply take matters to the assembly table and revoke what voters put in place.
But more rational heads prevailed. The assembly agreed to place the matter before voters. Is it a good thing when assembly members can’t run more than two terms for office? Do you think it’s ridiculous to prevent incumbency even when experience counts most?
Let them know your answer at the ballot box.
Another reason cited for no-shows at voting polls is the protest stance. This presents the notion that a voter resents being asked a redundant question – such as the term limit one – and weighs against going at all. Of course, reasons or excuses abound, from not understanding an issue to not caring one way or another.
The years when sales tax is on the ballot tend to be the years when voter interest – or individual self-interest – results in better turnouts. Consider that in 2011, one proposition asked voters whether the borough should repeal the sales tax holiday on non-prepared foods. Voters had overwhelmingly supported the sales tax holiday from October to June in 2008, voiced in a 60 percent “yes” vote. Turnout that year was 25 percent, indicating that hot button pressed upon people. That also was a year of voting a new borough mayor into office. Incumbent John Williams raced against popular Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey, who managed to beat him with 64 percent of the vote.
Then fast forward to 2011 when voters were asked again on the sales tax matter: Don’t you really want to repeal that tax holiday on non prepared foods, KP voters?
Known as Prop 1, the sales tax question got a resounding ‘no’ by 60 percent of the voters and drew out 25 percent of voters.
This year, with no sales tax on the ballot and no big official races, voter turnout is predicted to be deflated again. We’re being asked if we want plastic grocery bags back or if we like the ban. We will be voting in two Homer City Council seats from a field of four, including incumbent Bryan Zak. Gus VanDyke, Justin Arnold and Corbin Arno. We have four South Peninsula Hospital Service Area seats up and four candidates total. Along with these offices are two big money questions.
Prop 2 asks for a $23 million school bond to pay for school repairs and improvements, among them a green turf field at Homer High School. Remember that at least 70 percent of those costs are to be reimbursed by the State of Alaska. Another would lower property tax exemptions from $20,000 to $50,000 – money back in your pocket or a possible tax hike, if you live in certain areas.
It’s a good idea to get out and vote for these and many other reasons. Take a young person with you. Help him or her understand the stakes. Let’s pass this torch on – and try to get voter turnout numbers higher than they are today.
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