Thursday, May 6, 2010

Better Ballots

Here’s an idea whose time has come; cancel the election.

Not all together. Just stop holding elections every year.

The Pennsylvania Election Code calls for Primaries and Elections to be held each year. In odd numbered years, Municipal Primaries and Elections are conducted. These primaries and elections result in voters choosing their representatives in Municipal government, School Boards and on the Courts. In even numbered years, General Primaries and Elections are held. Voters choose the President, Governor, U.S. Senators, members of Congress and the General Assembly. In even numbered years, voters also select party officers; Committee men and women on a precinct level and on a statewide level.

Here’s the problem; turnout in Municipal Election years is woeful. It’s much better in General Election years.

According to figures supplied by the counties, 36% of all voters cast ballots in Luzerne County in the 2009 Municipal Election. The figure was 34% in Lackawanna County. In 2007, turnout was 39% in Luzerne County, 43% in Lackawanna County.

Compare those numbers with 2008 when we elected a President; 74% in Luzerne County and 70% in Lackawanna County. In 2006, the turnout was roughly 50% in each county. In 2006 we elected a Governor and Members of the General Assembly.

More people vote in the Presidential and Gubernatorial Elections than in Municipal Elections. It’s a simple fact.

So why not cancel the odd year (off year) primaries and elections. Move Municipal Elections to even numbered years when more voters go to the polls and vote. An act of the State Legislature would be needed to move the primaries and elections. Terms of Mayors, Commissioners, Council Members and others should be shortened for one term from four years to three years. The process is a bit more complicated for offices like Constable and Township Supervisors where the term of office is six years.

In twelve years, all local municipal offices including School Boards could be on the even year schedule.

The current system was necessary when Automatic Voting Machines (the legal name for the old lever machines) restricted the number of candidates who could appear on the ballot. Computerized voting machines can accommodate all candidates.

It puts local offices on the ballot when more voters go to the polls and actually vote.

It also saves money. With elections held every other even year, there are dramatically fewer costs.

The Luzerne County Charter Study should seize this opportunity and move any and all county elections to even years.

It’s a bold move, but one I think pays for itself in lower costs and higher voter interest.

No comments: