The 85 Percent Problem

This is not to blame the victors. It is, however, to point a finger at the 85% of the electorate that couldn't be bothered to vote.

The 85 Percent ProblemContributed by Suanne Thamm

Back in November we had an election, followed by a run-off election that resulted in two new Fernandina Beach city commissioners. Since then we have heard a lot of crowing from those who claim “the people” have spoken. What exactly does that mean? I went to the Supervisor of Elections website to check the election statistics and found some interesting facts:

• The number of registered voters increased from the general election (8493) to the run-off election (8572), yet the number of ballots cast dropped from 2110 (24.84%) in the general election to 1685 (19.66%) in the run-off election.
• Precinct 1 (MLK) had 1761 registered voters in the general and 1770 in the run-off. There were only 294 ballots cast there in the general election (16.70%). This number dropped to 215 or 12% in the run-off. In the general election, Susan Steger netted 145 votes to Charlie Corbett’s 144. In the run-off for Childers’ seat, John Elwell improved his performance from 59 votes to 84, but Sarah Pelican outdid him by improving from 113 votes to 131. She captured 60.93% of the votes cast in Precinct 1, which covers the historic downtown area and the Southside neighborhood.
• Precinct 2 (Atlantic Rec) had 6732 registered voters for the general election and 6802 for the run-off. There were 1816 ballots cast in the general election (26.98%) a number that decreased to 1470, or 21.61% in the run-off election. Charlie Corbett garnered 1086 votes (60.40%) to Susan Steger’s 712 (39.60%). In the run-off, John Elwell increased his vote total to 591 from 503, but Sarah Pelican added 26 votes to the commanding lead of 853 that she tallied in the general to win the run-off in this precinct as well with 59.80% of the votes cast.

• In combining both precincts, the final vote tallies were:

    – Corbett: 1,230 (58.94%)
    – Steger: 857 (41.06%)
    – Elwell: 675 (40.06%)
    – Pelican: 1,010 (59.94%)

The Corbett and Pelican victories were clear and unambiguous. And I do not mean to suggest that they were not properly certified as winners of their elections. But what I do find interesting is to compare the votes they captured against the total registered voters in the city. The percentage of support then changes dramatically. Corbett was elected by 14.5% of the city’s registered voters; Pelican was elected by 11.8% of the registered voters.

This is not to blame the victors. It is, however, to point a finger at the 85% of the electorate that couldn’t be bothered to vote. There has already been major changes in the city with the departure of City Manager Czymbor, and if the rumors are true, there will be many more. While all of us are pretty clear about what the new commissioners don’t want (i.e., infrastructure investment that requires additional funds in the form of taxes or franchise fees), we are not clear at all about what they do want. What is their vision for the city? Do they support the same goals that citizens articulated going back to Vision 2000 and just question the means? Or are they looking for something altogether different. We do not know. They don’t hold town meetings; they don’t write opinion pieces for the local paper; they don’t even articulate their reasons for their votes at public meetings.

So going back to my first paragraph: who were “the people” who really spoke in this last election? I maintain it was that 85% that never showed up. Perhaps they felt all the candidates were a sorry lot; or maybe they were so happy with what they had, they felt there was no way any election could impact them. No matter what, they let 15% of the electorate determine our future. Thanks a lot, folks.

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  1. Anonymous

    During a 1986 tax reform debate Ronald Reagan said “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are – I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
    Since then, we’ve made government the focus of reform and not the agent of reform.
    We sent our troops across oceans to fight the “good fight” of democracy, yet here at home we can’t be bothered to cross the street and vote for the privilege. As a libertarian who would love to see a Ron Paul like change in the White House with decidedly less government in our lives, I may rejoice at the fact that only 15% voted locally; as a realist however I fear that this disinterest in the direction of our future is the result of many years of sorely lacking education.  This in turn has left many with the feeling that no matter their vote, government is an evil, best to avoid at all cost. Time will show how costly this attitude is going to be to our city.

  2. Anonymous

    85% of the electorate doesn’t care. Period. If they were happy with the former commissioners they would have voted for them…as some did. If they were unhappy with them, they would have voted against them…as many did. The lazy ones who decided to not to vote, will be subject to the results imposed by the active and involved citizens. 

    Instead of holding complaint forums where maybe nobody would show up and ultimately waste their time, one could just phone the newly elected officials and setup a meeting. 

    -The Drake

  3. Myra Mains

    Well, the local voting results are just as poor as the national voting results.  I have lived here 30 years, for local elections the percentages have been about the same.  In reality to you want the 85% who do not care enough to take 10 minutes out of their day to go to the poll, or less than 5 minutes to request an absentee ballot to vote?  I was raised to believe that voting was my duty as a citizen of this country, and that being an informed voter was paramount….I would rather have 15% informed public vote than 100% of non-informed voters voting any day of the week.

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