Friday, October 23, 2009

Editorial: Democracy gets boost, takes shot

The unnamed Courier editor puts on his sage hat and weighs democratic principle against -- what?

In the front half of the piece, the editor makes a clear case for upholding the integrity of the voting process. Admirable.

In the back half he undercuts that and tries to say that principle can be fairly balanced by practical considerations. We shouldn't necessarily hold up the initiative process to serve the guy who came almost last in the primary, right?

Well, let's look at why we have primary elections. The clear purpose of doing two elections rather than just one is to have the general election ballot produce a useful result. A simple election involving (say) ten candidates for three seats would inevitably lead to people being elected by minority votes. The primary reduces the candidate list to produce majority results.

We also know from clear experience that how people vote can change as they receive new information. The space between the primary and general allows voters to focus on the general candidates and refine their judgments of them.

In characterizing Mr Katan as "a candidate who got a Dear John letter from voters at the polls already" and saying, "The people did speak, after all," the editor asserts that the results are already in. By that logic, there is no need for a general election at all and Ms Linn and Messrs Hanna and Blair, the top three primary vote-winners, should simply be seated on Council. Top candidate Hanna got a little less than 6,000 of the over 13,000 votes cast in a constituency of about 25,000 voters. A clear majority didn't vote for him, but he and two others supported by even fewer votes would become the representatives of all.

The only result that counts is the general. The people have not yet spoken, and getting on that ballot is essential to any hope of a fair contest. Mr Katan received exactly 25 fewer votes than Mr Peters did. I'd say their chances of winning a seat are very similar.

In training poll workers, election staff drills into us that we're to err on the side of inclusion. We're to do all we can to facilitate rather than impede the voter. At the front end of the election, we want everyone in, because participation is a sacred right and more is better for the process. Qualifying the ballots and weeding out the mistakes come later.

We should clearly follow the same principle in the candidacy process, for the same reasons. Where there's uncertainty, we should err on the side of inclusion, and that's what the City Clerk should have done to head off the situation we find ourselves in.

The editor's argument that it's reasonable to proceed with the election despite the dispute is completely specious and inimical to the democratic process. My ancestors didn't participate in the Revolution because democracy would be simpler, cheaper or easier, and to the extent that we allow those values to enter the conversation now, we're tossing our heritage and way of life on the dump.


coyoteradiotheater said...

Absolutely, Steven! Democracy is about listening to the electorate, not making things simple for the temporary occupants in City Hall.

Anonymous said...

Again, right on target. I'd hate to see anyone 'inconvenienced' by simple democratic principles.

Steven Ayres said...