Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Letter: Your Vote Counts ‒ in the 2013 Election

The following letter to the editors comes to us from Richard Gideon. –Tom

If the past is prelude to the future, approximately 75% of registered Mt. Lebanon voters will go to the polls this coming election day, 6 November 2012. Presidential elections always seem to draw the biggest crowds, as a study of election data freely available on the Allegheny County web site will attest. "Your vote counts," we are told, and that phrase is pounded into us from elementary school and beyond. But in a recent article in REASON magazine entitled "Your Vote Doesn't Count," managing editor Katherine Mangu-Ward writes, "In a 2012 Economic Inquiry article, Columbia University political scientist Andrew Gelman, statistician Nate Silver, and University of California, Berkeley, economist Aaron Edlin use poll results from the 2008 election cycle to calculate that the chance of a randomly selected vote determining the outcome of a presidential election is about one in 60 million." Clearly, the odds of any one person's vote affecting the outcome of this year's presidential race is just north of zero.

But there is an election wherein each individual's vote is more important by several orders of magnitude; the 2013 so-called "off-year" elections. Up for grabs in Mt. Lebanon are the commission seats of Matt Kluck (Ward 2) and David Brumfield (Ward 4), and the Mt. Lebanon School Board "at large" positions currently held by Josephine Posti, Dale Ostergaard, Mary Birks, and Daniel Remely.

In many respects, these local elections are more important to the fiscal well-being of Mt. Lebanon residents than what may happen at the Federal level. Although one should not downplay the effects of Obamacare and other taxes that will begin to hit us in 2013, local property taxes, fees, and intrusions into individual liberty are often more pernicious at the local level because the people who exact such tribute are closer at hand, and sometimes more intimidating. But the history of off-year elections reveals a foolish consistency; that being a low turnout at the polls. In 2011, for example, 36.51% of eligible Mt. Lebanon residents bothered to vote. In 2010 that number increased to 57.4% due to a U.S. Senate race, and in 2009 ‒ another "off-year" ‒ it was 29.2%.

Although there has been no formal effort to discover the reason for this situation as it applies to Mt. Lebanon, it certainly is not an uncommon circumstance across the nation; a quick Internet search for "turnout in off-year elections" shows this to be a common complaint from sea to shining sea. Reasons given nationally vary from "not important" to "no choice" to "what's the use?". Locally in 2011 the "no choice" lament may have had some validity. Despite an eleventh hour bid by a handful of write-in candidates, Mt. Lebanon voters were given almost no choice in the school board election, as the majority of candidates cross-filed on both "major" party labels and ran on "platforms" virtually indistinguishable from one another. (It was suggested to me by a Blog poster that Mt. Lebanon residents who do not vote in off-year elections are satisfied with the candidates who are elected by those residents who do vote, and therefore don't feel that it is necessary to go to the polls! Not only is this totally illogical, but it assumes that the majority of Mt. Lebanon voters trust a small vanguard of people to make their decisions for them ‒ an insult to anyone with a mind.)

Mt. Lebanon residents should not "sit out" off year elections, as those who govern us locally set the fees for residency in "Club Lebo." In 2011 a local family with a median income of $75,000 and owning a house assessed at $225,200 paid 9.43% of its income for property taxes to the Mt. Lebanon School District and the Mt. Lebanon Municipality. This is on top of the 1.3% Earned Income Tax that is unevenly split between the Municipality and the District, and does not count County, State, and Federal taxes.

If local residents do in fact believe that they have little to choose from in the way of candidates then it is time to change that situation. What is wanting are viable, young, candidates for the Commission and the District who are completely independent of the two major political parties. Perhaps once we have a slate of actual choices the voters may come out of their heavily taxed homes to cast an intelligent vote during an "off-year" race. Mt. Lebanon residents deserve "choice" at all levels in their lives. If the same people run again and are reelected then so be it, but it should not be because there were no other options on the ballot.

There is a "perfect storm" of debt coming due in this country. Mt. Lebanon residents should not think that their little six square mile village will not be affected by it, thus leaving the people who comprise the local municipal and school district governments free to spend as they see fit. The Municipality and District are both in debt, and while they may be manageable debts now they aren't the only bills being laid at the feet of the local taxpayer. It would be refreshing to see some local candidates in 2013 who understand this basic premise.

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