Politics is not like the weather
A low voter turn-out was expected for the special election to choose a new medical examiner-investigator this week.
That’s too bad, particularly since the race had such a large number of candidates. That much interest in participating in our democratic process is not often seen.
Granted, the office of coroner is not viewed as desirable by many people, nor is it as influential over a large number of citizens in the same way the role of alderman or supervisor may be.
But coroner is indeed an important job. Determining the cause of death may have health ramifications, legal ramifications, financial ramifications or just be necessary to ease the minds of the deceased’s family and friends. If you are a frequent watcher of the many TV forensic procedurals, you have an idea how tricky it can be to accurately determine a cause of death in some cases (although they are admittedly likely to be rare in Union County).
But perhaps as critical as proper medical training may be, the coroner has to have some social skills and compassion, often dealing with people on what they will feel to be the worst day in their lives.
Almost every family will have to interact with the coroner at some time.
Because of these, and other, reasons one might assume there would be a substantial voter turn-out to choose a coroner.
One would probably be wrong.
Voter and, more to the point, citizen apathy seems to be an accepted part of small-town life. It doesn’t have to be, but it is.
Take a look at recent elections.
A turn-out of just half the registered voters is considered a victory for democracy and the electoral process. Participation is more likely to be a third or even quarter of those on the voting rolls.
And the problem is not just in the lack of voting, but also the more demanding task of actually participating in the operation of government.
Based on what people have told me, many local residents have been upset by and disagreed with more than one action by our leaders here in the past year or two. But when election time comes around, it is rare for more than one or two offices to have more than a couple of candidates. Often, candidates are completely unopposed.
So what is the disconnect?
Of course running for office requires a considerable commitment of time and money. Actually winning requires a much larger commitment of time, a good bit of aggravation, a thick skin and the willingness to open oneself out to widespread criticism.
There are public-spirited citizens who don’t run for office for quite valid reasons, but there should be many more who can run.
And even if you think an official is doing a good job, there should always be competition to keep him or her on his toes. That competition might even reveal a better representative.
People used to say of the weather, everybody talks about it but no one does anything about it.
That doesn’t have to hold true for our local governments. We can do something about it, if we will.
Every election is important and may impact your personal life in ways you never imagined. But don’t complain about the service you get if you don’t take a responsible part in the process.
J. Lynn West
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