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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Old people vote, trainwreck bonds

Pima County and the City of Tucson held midterm elections on Nov. 3 for voters to choose their city council and decide the fate of a number of propositions, some of which involved approving bond sales to generate more money for projects like road improvements and flood control.

Instead of passing as expected, however, voters chose to reject every bond proposal on the ballot. Or, at least a quarter of voters did.

Despite the county having a total of 493,885 registered voters, only 190,173 cast ballots, resulting in a dismal turnout of 38.5 percent. Rather than attempting to make changes in the section of government that arguably affects them most, the majority of citizens in Tucson chose instead to succumb to voter apathy and abstain from the process.

When over 70 percent of the electorate leaves the decision-making up to the remaining 30 percent, the interests of the majority usually go unrepresented. In this case, older, more politically-active citizens saw their voting power increase, meaning a rise in taxes was unlikely to pass.

The ballot measures, albeit with a scary price tag of $815 million, would have allocated money toward road improvements, flood control, highway construction, parks and promotion of tourism in an effort to improve the economy of Tucson. More money is desperately needed for all of these projects, especially the enhancement of infrastructure, yet the community as a whole will suffer because of the decisions of 29 percent of the region.

Most shocking is the rate at which taxes would have been increased. Despite the overall multi-million dollar sum, the voters would barely have felt the effects of the extra spending. According to the Arizona Daily Star, the taxes “would have cost the average Pima County homeowner, with a house valued at $150,000, about $59 per year over the life of the bonds.” This means anyone renting would have paid nothing, and most property owners would have paid less than $60 per year for the improvements to the city.

If the city had deferred the measures until the 2016 election, the outcome may have been different — turnout is always greater during presidential elections, meaning the bonds would have had a better chance of passing.

The more significant issue, though, is the incredible lack of engagement by the Tucson population. The U.S. in general has struggled with voter turnout for decades, with as few as 60 percent of those eligible typically voting in presidential elections, and even fewer during midterms. Some choose not to vote out of dissatisfaction with current politicians, while others simply feel as though their votes will not make a difference. But when a large enough group surrenders to these emotions, the outcomes of elections are significantly impacted — especially in local elections. This gives the hardliners — who typically don’t represent the majority — a disproportionately large amount of influence.

Although in the end it is up to the voters to go and vote — or put an early ballot in the mail — the government could take great strides to improve voter turnout overall. Among many solutions are changing election day to a weekend or declaring it a holiday, publishing easy-to-understand information about the propositions and candidates online, or, specifically in Tucson and other college towns, establishing polling stations on campus. 

But what Tucson and the country need more than anything is accountability. Without the threat of losing power, our elected officials can continue to default on promises and enact policies unaligned with their constituents’ preferences—simply because they know their incumbent status is generally safe. If any significant change is to be achieved in the election next fall, we as citizens need to realize it is our duty to enact it. 

Follow Cooper Temple on Twitter.

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