Now that the Carbon School District leeway election is over, I think officials need to look at the way these kinds of "off year" or special elections are handled.
First of all, it is a known fact that when elections are held only for a single item, the turnout is generally lower. In this case the number of people who voted in the county amounted to just a bit over 15 percent of the registered voters. Some would say that is due to voter apathy, and I can agree with that to a certain extent, but I believe there is more to why only a little over 2000 people voted in an election which will affect almost everyone's pocketbook. The outcome of the election was decided by only 25 votes.
Based on my observation of what went on for the couple of months prior to the election and the way election day itself was handled and to be fair to those who pay taxes and should have the right to determine what their money goes for, some types of changes need to be made in the thinking of public officials.
First and foremost, is the amount of time allowed for public debate on whatever issue is being voted upon. The Carbon Board of Education gave initial approval to have a vote on the leeway election in late November. The dates offered to the board as a choice for election day were Feb. 4 or a date later in the spring. The board selected Feb. 4 and I think to everyone at the meeting that seemed a long time away, especially with Christmas and New Years looming on the minds of those involved. At the time, the proposals for what any increased funds a positive leeway vote might generate and be spent on was sketchy. Teachers salaries were part of the mix, but it wasn't really clear because the board needed to have a work meeting to decide exactly what they were going to propose to the public. However, I think largely because of the holidays, this meeting wasn't scheduled until early January, which was only a month before the election was to take place.
Then either at or after that meeting, when all the details of the proposal to the public were decided upon, the decision was made not to send out the brochure on the election until the week before the actual election day.
Now this type of action could be construed in two different ways. I would hope it was because the district wanted the information to be fresh in people's minds. That would make sense, but I and others fear that there may have been another, less appealing reason for the release date.
The fact is that releasing the specific details that late before the election gave no time for public debate. True, the Sun Advocate printed an article in the paper that described many of the details, but even that was too little too late. Some people asked me why I didn't write something about it sooner, because I did know some sketchy facts about the proposal. But the paper is very hesitant to print anything we don't have definite information on. Misinformation, to us, is much worse than no information at all.
For all intents and purposes the information came out so late that the general public had little time to talk about it. There was no time for public opposition to be heard or for other points of view to be aired. The Sun Advocate only had time to present one editorial on the subject and the three letters we did receive from various citizens on the matter came to us after the editorial page that would have been pertinent to the issue had passed. Reproducing letters in the paper last Tuesday, which is when they would have appeared, concerning an issue on the day it was voted on seemed a moot point when most of the papers don't reach people's door steps until the evening. So in terms of examining the issue from a different perspective than that of the school district, little appeared in print or conversation.
However, that doesn't mean there wasn't activity in campaigning for approval. The employees associations at the school district rallied their members support to vote for the leeway and of course the school district promoted it in every way they could as well.
The question therefore begs itself. Was the late release of information planned to keep public debate at a minimum? Community members have expressed this opinion to me time and time again since last Tuesday. True, the district followed the legal letter of the law. It announced and publicly discussed the issue of the election in board meetings, ran legal notices concerning the election times and polling places in the newspaper and did send information to the public in the way of it's brochure. But was it done in the spirit of timely, public discourse and discussion?
The general public's apathy cannot be denied. People who didn't know an election was going on either didn't look at the mail or didn't read the newspaper. Surely many of them just don't care. But just the same, would there have been a higher turnout had more time been available for discussion. Probably so.
The other problem that affected the election was one that continues to plague almost every off year election (or off election, or whatever you may call it) we have. It is the shuffle of polling places. This is not the school districts problem, but a county problem. The day after the election I had four people come to me and tell me they went to vote and said their polling place was not open. What they had done is gone to where they had voted in the last election. Both the legal advertisement in the paper and the brochure sent out by the district addressed the issue of where the polling places would be located.
It has been proven that in a building emergency (fire, earthquake, etc.) people will always try to exit through the door they entered through. It is the same concept. When polling places are condensed, it causes problems for those not examining the details. All four people that talked with me said that they had gone to vote during the last hour before the polls closed. At that late time they felt they had no way of finding out in time where they should go. One just thought the polls closed early. All could have called the county clerk's office, because on election night it is open with personnel counting votes, but none of them thought of that. They just thought they were out of luck.
I understand the reason for condensing the polling places in a non-general election. Running polls is expensive. But wouldn't it be a good idea to post a sign on the door of each of the general election polling places telling voters where they should go to vote if they have made the mistake and come there to perform their civic responsibility?
It seems that's the least that could be done.