San Jose’s City Council decided that District 4 residents will have a special election to fill the seat of Kansen Chu, who is moving on to the State Assembly. They could have simply appointed someone—a far better and less expensive option.
Recent voter turnout shows that people are not interested in voting. As a group, they sent a loud message to the body politic: “Don’t bother us.” The paltry turnout in the midterm elections was a statement of indifference that should have resonated with local leaders.
The handwringing for democracy and insistence on elected representation is coming from the minority. Special interests are the ones who vote. The people who need representation most—the poor, young, ethnic minorities and women—simply don’t vote. Let’s stop fighting that fact and accept it.
Reasons for voter apathy are well chronicled. Ballots are too long, campaigns too uncivil, messages too trite—and most importantly: studying up takes time and energy. With everything going on in people’s lives, the public refuses to have its entertainment interrupted for issues of consequence. It really is too much to ask. It hurts their collective brains.
It’s fashionable in our system of government to blame elected officials, the system, the corrosive effect of money in politics, the ugly campaigning, the length of the ballot and the overwhelming sense that nothing changes. Rarely does anybody blame the real problem—the public. Such an analysis is impolitic; nobody ever wants to offend, at least not out loud.
But election results are significant and have significant consequences. We live in an entitled era, when most people can still give you the names of three deceased stooges but not a single Supreme Court justice. Most people today are ignorant of their history, their laws and their governance. It is tragic that the last, best hope of mankind is left in the hands of the willfully ignorant masses who make up a majority of our citizenry.
As Winston Churchill said, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
The District 4 race will be full of sound and fury. But voter turnout will be less than 25 percent of the registered voters and less than 13 percent of the eligible electorate. The ultimate winner may or may not be competent to hold public office. But the majority of the public simply doesn’t care.
Of course, a political race is good for business. Thousands of dollars will be spent convincing the 20 percent of people who happen to remember the date of the election, whether informed or not, that all but one of the candidates is evil. And the winner will get to run again in less than two years for re-election. Of course, this assumes the antiquated and incompetent Registrar of Voters office will have the votes counted before the next election cycle.
The cost of having an election is a waste of public funds. We should heed the voters silence as a call to simply leave them alone. If and when they get worked up enough to participate, only then should the body politic consider having an election. As it stands now, the entire exercise is a farce.
We no longer live in a democracy, and we have abandoned the thought of a republic. What we have is a small oligarchy that controls the government through money and the limited participation of those who have resources. The irony is that, if the masses chose to do something, they could change that dynamic simply by educating themselves and participating.
But their collective silence is deafening. They do not want to be bothered with such decisions. Let’s respect their will—most won’t even realize what happened.