Overheard recently in the Craighead County office of the DF&A — or what most of us would call the state revenue office:
Clerk: “Ma’am, are you registered to vote?”
Clerk: “Would you like to register to vote?”
Customer: “No. I don’t vote.”
Really? You don’t vote? Are you saying you are content to let others choose for you your elected leaders at every level? From school board to city council up to and including those who represent you in Washington?
Do you mean you are content to let people you had no voice in selecting make decisions that affect you? Consider just a few examples on the local level where you can make your voice heard. But of course you’d have to register to vote first, and follow that with the action of casting a ballot.
Among other duties, school boards propose the rate (above the state requirements) at which property in their districts is taxed and ask voters to agree. If you don’t vote, you not only don’t choose the members of the school board who might propose a tax increase but also you don’t have a say in deciding the rate at which your real estate and personal property will be taxed.
If you don’t vote in the municipal elections, you don’t have a say in choosing the people who will decide how land adjoining you may be used, how business is regulated, or even how much they pay themselves.
The same thing is true on the state level. If you don’t vote, you don’t have a say in choosing who goes to Little Rock to decide how much of your money the state collects and where it’s spent. Keep in mind also, the folks in charge decide who will be appointed to state boards and commissions that regulate your business or occupation.
If you don’t vote in the elections for national office, you give up your say in choosing the people who go to Washington and decide who’ll spend the money you give Uncle Sam every payday and how they’ll spend it. You’ve forfeited the chance to say by your ballot you agree more or perhaps you disagree less with the philosophy of one party or the other. Just as those in Little Rock, the men and women inside the Beltway set policies that impact our lives and our wallets.
With so much at stake, why wouldn’t people who are eligible to vote refuse even to register? It can’t be inconvenience. Voter registration forms are readily available in public places almost everywhere and the process is quick and painless. On a busy day, registering to vote at the local revenue office may be even faster than renewing your driver’s license.
Some non-voters cite frustration with the system; the feeling one vote doesn’t matter. But history, recent and not so recent, tells us that just isn’t so. A few examples:
• Marcus “Landslide” Morton won the 1839 race for Massachusetts governor by a single vote. Incidentally, about 140 years later, a candidate for the Jonesboro School Board posted exactly the same kind of landslide against his opponent.
• More recently, candidates Ray Kidd and Mike Cox polled the exact same number of votes in a 2014 primary race for a justice of the peace position in Craighead County. Don’t you think one those candidates would have preferred to have gotten just one more vote rather than have to keep campaigning for a subsequent runoff election which Kidd won?
• It wasn’t a one-vote victory, but nevertheless the best of example that every vote matters comes from the 2000 presidential election. George Bush bested Al Gore by 537 votes to win Florida. To Bush and Gore, and to the nation, every vote in Florida mattered.
County clerks often hear people who refuse to register to vote do so because they don’t want the inconvenience of standing in line on election day. With “no-excuse” early voting available up to election day, that argument doesn’t hold water.
Still others say they fear being called for jury duty since voter registration rolls are used to pull names for a jury panel. In Arkansas, however, not registering to vote won’t guarantee you’ll skate on getting called for jury duty. Voter registration rolls and driver’s license records may now be used to compose a jury panel.
Regarding the woman in the revenue office, I don’t know why you don’t vote, but if trying to avoid jury duty is the reason, that may not work for you since they might pull your name from the driver’s license records. So then, why don’t all of us who are registered to vote do so?
In 2008, a presidential election year, less than a third of the registered voters in Craighead County cast their ballots in the November general election. In 2010, only a paltry 18% of registered voters showed up. That’s just inexcusable.
By contrast, in 2016, the number of registered voters rose to nearly 60,000 in Craighead County, and the majority of them cast ballots. Local interest may have been fueled by the six-way Jonesboro mayoral race, but more likely by the Trump-Clinton presidential race. Nearly 65% of registered voters in Arkansas cast their ballots in 2016.
It matters not what or who is on the ballot. Customer at the revenue office, I’m going to vote in every election and I believe you should, too.
Paul Holmes is editor-at-large of Northeast Arkansas Talk Business & Politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.