A meme making its way around social media, sent to the Pulitzer Prize-winning website PolitiFact, captured the frustration many Americans feel. The meme said, “11% approval ratings. 96.4% re-elected” – in other words, the U.S. Congress has 11 percent approval ratings, yet 96.4 percent of incumbent lawmakers were re-elected in 2014. Politifact wondered whether that was true, so it took a look.
It is, and it’s our fault.
Voters are responsible for imposing term limits, but like almost all of our civic duties, we have abandoned that responsibility and left the machinery of government in the hands of political mechanics who serve their own interests rather than ours.
And while it may be easy to scoff at the dysfunction at the national level, we must not turn away from the same failure here in Lakeland.
The accompanying chart shows the voter participation in the last seven city elections. The chart does not include “elections” in which there was a single candidate with no alternative.
While it is possible that the results would be the same with 100% turnout, we have to consider the negative impact of refusing to go to the polls, before we criticize the outcome.
No matter how any particular commissioner is judged or respected – and we believe all of them to be earnest and determined to ensure Lakeland’s success – any failure on their collective part belongs to us for failing to participate.
And … in 75 percent of Lakeland’s city elections over the last ten years, the candidate who raised the most money won the office. Maybe we don’t need to go to the polls at all, if are willing to let a few hundred people with hundred-dollar-bills make the decision for us.
Or … maybe we should scoff at ourselves and determine not to let this happen again. Engage your citizenship. Gather information. Challenge the office seekers. Vote! Stay involved after the election. Make yourself heard. That’s how it’s done.