Tuesday, November 8, 2011

No Elections Today

I voted today. Well, actually, that’s not true. I tried to vote today. I showed up at my usual polling place but there was nobody there.

In Carmel, Indiana, today, there wasn’t an election. Here’s what the Voter Guide from The Indianapolis Star shows residents of Carmel:

This is one disadvantage to living in #Carmel, nobody to vote for today.

So why wasn’t there an election? This past spring the Indiana General Assembly revised Indiana Code § 3-10-6-7.5(b) to read as follows:

An election may not be held for a municipal office if: (1) there is only one (1) nominee for the office or only one (1) person has filed a declaration of intent to be a write-in candidate for the office under IC 3-8-2-2.5; and (2) no person has filed a declaration of intent to be a write-in candidate for the office under IC 3-8-2-2.5 that results in a contest for election to the same municipal office.

Indiana Code § 3-12-5-3 closes the hole by providing:

Whenever a candidate for a local office described in section 2 of this chapter is unopposed, the circuit court clerk shall, upon demand of the candidate, certify the candidate in the same manner as if elected to the office.

Look, I understand that it costs money to hold an election. And I’m sympathetic to the argument that there is no reason to spend money to hold elections when the outcome is a certainty. But still…

Voting is one of our most important civic functions. Do we really want to cancel voting entirely?

Plus it seems to me that voting, even in uncontested races, still sends messages from voters to candidates. For example, think of a situation in which a voter would be voting for a mayor, a city council representative for the voter’s district, and two at-large council members. If there are no contested races, then shouldn’t each candidate receive the same number of votes? But of course, that isn’t what happens. For many reasons, voters may choose not to cast a ballot for certain candidates. Imagine the message sent in the preceding hypothetical if the mayor, district candidate, and one at-large candidate all receive about the same number of votes, but the other at-large candidate receives only about 50% of the votes. Why did voters choose to withhold votes from that candidate?

And think about this: This bill was signed into law and became effective after the May primary elections. Might voters (or candidates) have done anything differently had they known that they might not even have the right to cast a vote in November?

Query, too, why a potential write-in candidate must register? Imagine a situation where a candidate for a particular office is unchallenged but has done something to anger voters in the weeks leading up to the election. Under the current law, the candidate will simply be certified as the winner. Shouldn’t voters be able to go to the poll and write in the name of a new candidate?

What if a candidate dies after being selected in the primary?

And don’t we want to teach our kids that voting is important? It seems to me that canceling the election because of a lack of choices sends the wrong message. This is especially true for kids who’ve turned 18 since the primary and who are being deprived of the opportunity to cast a ballot for the first time.

In a democracy (well, ok, a representative democracy), doesn’t it just feel … well … wrong to declare someone the “winner” when no election is held? Then again, given that Republicans are looking to make voting more difficult and to disenfranchise voters, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they’ve passed a bill do away with voting entirely. I think that this law should be repealed. It shouldn’t matter if a particular candidate is running uncontested. We should still have elections. Because, as we’ve all heard over the years, elections matter. But it isn’t just the outcome that matters; it is the process, too. Elections matter.

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