95 percent of us won’t be doing this in the coming days

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, October 26, 2013

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Did anyone notice an election is going on?

I mean, this year.

I know we’re already hearing about 2016 and who is going to run for president. And since the government shutdown ended, we’ve heard all kinds of speculation about what will happen in the midterm elections a year from now. And Texas politics is fired up with candidates announcing for governor, lieutenant governor and so on.

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

At the end of the day Thursday, at least 226 Wise County residents knew there was an election going on. That was the total through the first four days of early voting for the Nov. 5 election.

That number seems pretty pathetic when compared to last November’s election, when 4,263 people had voted in the first four days of early voting.

But considering that only 426 votes were cast during two weeks of early voting the last time proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution were on the ballot, it actually looks pretty good.

For the record, 3.3 percent of registered voters in Wise County cast a ballot in that 2011 election, slightly under the 5 percent statewide voter turnout.

In 2012, the White House was at stake. It’s to be expected that more people will come out and vote in a presidential election than a so-called “off-year” election.

Still, look at those numbers for the first four days of early voting side by side. 4,263 versus 226.

This is nothing new, and it certainly isn’t limited to Wise County. You’ll find a similar disparity in elections throughout the country.

I have a theory that voting is more about emotions than it is about public policy.

Politicians know that.

It’s easy to see why turnout is so strong in presidential election years. You’ve got all those dramatic commercials, intense debates and wall-to-wall cable television coverage. Candidates play to our emotions, carefully deciding what buttons to push to get us to respond to their message. And usually we are asked to support some vague yet emotionally-appealing slogan.

Change we can believe in
Believe in America
Country first
Compassionate conservatism

Few have gotten into specifics with the possible exception of James K. Polk’s slogan in the 1844 presidential election: Reannexation of Texas and reoccupation of Oregon.

Bond issues and constitutional amendments can’t provide juicy soundbytes or offer up sweeping, feel-good catch phrases. And because of that, we don’t pay much attention.

But while there is no doubt the federal government plays a large part in our lives, our votes don’t normally directly correlate to our everyday lives. For most of us, priorities include good schools, a clean and abundant water supply, safe neighborhoods, roads that won’t tear up our vehicles and so forth.

Decisions on all those items usually come from local elected officials or bond issues.

Yet the number of votes in those types of elections always lags well behind that of presidential election years.

There are important issues to decide. We’ve got nine amendments to the Texas Constitution to consider, including one that deals with the future of water in our state (which has been identified as the No. 1 priority according to our state leaders). Voters in Paradise also have several decisions to make, including a bond issue.

This time, let’s pretend our votes will make a real difference in our lives in the coming years.

Because you know what?

They will.

Brian Knox is special projects manager for the Messenger.

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