Tomorrow is Election Day. Really. It is.
If we stay true to form, something like 10-15% of eligible voters will actually show up at the polls on Tuesday. Compare that to well over 50% who vote in fall elections during even-numbered years -- those elections that pick member of Congress, state legislators, and every four years, the president.
Yet I can make a pretty strong argument that the mayors, alders, school board members, circuit court judges and other local offices that we'll fill tomorrow are more important to our daily lives than the glitzier races in the fall.
Of course it matters who the president is, but I would argue that it matters almost as much who is running our school district and who is making decisions about city budgets. After all, if you have kids, the most important thing in their lives is the quality of their schools, and the president doesn't really have all that much to say about that. And the president can't do much either about fixing a pothole in your street or getting the grass cut in your neighborhood park.
And yet, if you want to find a nice quiet, out of the way place on Tuesday, try a polling location near you.
Why is that? Well, I'd say the very things that make local government so responsive also make it less compelling for voters. The difference is advertising. There is very little television advertising in spring races, save sometimes for state Supreme Court. That means that just about anyone can get elected if they knock on enough doors. Literally, a few thousand dollars is all you need to run for Madison alder. The money that so taints politics at other levels just isn't present for most local races.
Of course that's a good thing. But it also means that local races just aren't as visible as the high dollar contests.
I wish I had an answer for this. I think I know that the answer is not to reduce the size of the Madison Common Council and make it full time. That would invite big money into the process in a way that just doesn't exist right now. I know some folks are making a case that the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce is somehow trying to buy elections, but the truth is that the $10,000 that they're spreading around in several races won't have much impact. I doubt seriously that the Chamber money will make the difference in any race.
For now the answer is to just get out and vote, and know that with so few of your fellow citizens joining you, you are going to have an outsized impact on maybe the most important offices we fill.