Friday, February 10, 2006

You want to buy what?

One thing we’ve been wanting to touch on lately is the School Board/SPLOST referendum thing.  As you guys probably know, the Board of Education wants to raise some $90 million, a penny at a time, for technology and construction.

Ok, no problem.  Around here, we’re usually pretty big supporters of SPLOST monies for our community.  Construction is important, so is technology.  Are there things we’d rather see the BOE spend our pennies on?  Absolutely, but we’ve been pretty clear on that issue in the past.  

So we, like many folks around town, don’t necessarily object to another SPLOST referendum.  What we do object to is the proposed timing – a special election, just for the SPLOST vote, that the BOE would like to have on September 19.

Just to get everybody up to speed, there are no other elections scheduled for September 19, unlike the ones we’ve already got on the calendar for July 18 (primary) and November 7 (the general election).  It’s a pretty safe assumption that we’ll also have runoff elections after at least the general, maybe the primary as well, but you can’t bet on it.

The point is, there’s no reason at all to have a special election just for SPLOST.  As the ABH points out in a recent editorial, the cost of having this special election (around $41,000) is roughly equivalent to the cost of educating four students for an entire year.

The question is: Why have a special election when you have two perfectly serviceable election dates already on the books?  The ABH speculates that Superintendent Lewis Holloway is concerned about “ballot fatigue” – that by the time voters make it through the races for Governor, Congress, Mayor, Commission, all the other statewide officers, etc, the voters will just give up and walk away.

With due respect, not exactly.

As has been noted in the ABH and elsewhere, special elections on SPLOST tend to garner a pretty pathetic turnout – 20% or less.  That’s just how the BOE likes it.  The folks who pay attention tend to support SPLOST, they go vote, and the referendum passes overwhelmingly, giving a false impression that the entire community thinks SPLOST is the greatest thing since sliced bread.  

Truth be told, there’s a lot of opposition to SPLOST floating around Athens.  It’s unorganized opposition, to be sure, but it’s there.  By making people come out especially to vote for this, with no other votes on the ballot, the BOE takes advantage of the lack of organized opposition.  

This is legally-sanctioned turnout suppression – plain and simple.  

To be fair, there’s an argument to be made that, at some point, people have to take responsibility for their own government, and that’s a valid point.  If you’re an American citizen over the age of 18, you have a civic duty to register to vote and to exercise that vote in every election.  If you don’t want 20% of the population deciding how to spend $90 million of your pennies, then show up and cast your vote.

But, back in the real world, people have jobs and kids and mortgage payments and prime time TV to worry about.  In addition, many people don’t read the ABH or listen to WGAU, and even if they were willing to get out and cast a vote, they might not even know about a random special election in the middle of September.  Of course, that’s just how the BOE would like it.


DoubleDawgDareYa said...

Exactly right.

What about the "ballot fatigue" of having too many separate elections?

Put it on one of the other dates where, by the way, I'll probably vote in favor of it. But don't spend 4,000,000 more of our pennies having a 1-issue election.

Adrian said...

One SPLOST is one too many. We're eaten up with sales, ad valorem, income, stormwater utility, and all other kinds of taxes. We need state-level changes in the way education is funded.

The kind of people with long, strict schedules struggling to get by on their poverty wages are the ones who have trouble turning out to three elections a year. Busy students, too.