"In case you're wondering (and, really, who isn't?) turnout in the Valley is sluggish today."
The former comment comes from Morning Call columnist Bill White: the latter from Morning Call statehouse reporter John Micek. I admire and respect them both. To be fair, Bill made those remarks as the preface to a blog about appellate judge elections, which are confusing. And Micek tells me he actually wishes we had high turnouts like those in Europe.
But I still wish those remarks were never made. They give the impression they don't give a damn about local races. It encourages voter apathy.
Party bosses predicted a 15-17% turnout in yesterday's municipal primary. Lehigh County's registrar of voters stated turnout was "busier than I anticipated." Northampton County's voter registrar claimed 15% of eligible voters had already voted by 1 PM. The Morning Call's headline for this online article? "Lehigh Valley voter turnout slow so far." Doesn't that misleading description also promote voter apathy?
Obviously, the turnout in yesterday's election is much lower than you'll see in a presidential election. It was slow - but not for a municipal primary. If it's between 15-17%, it's a normal turnout. Approximately 30,000 votes were cast in Northampton County, not including absentee ballots. That's about 16% of Northampton County's registered voters. Of course this is too low, but it still met expectations.
During most election cycles, when local candidates strive to have their message heard, the print media hide. Candidates are encouraged to buy ads to get their points across, or have supporters send letters to the editor. This scant coverage makes it impossible for poorly funded candidates to deliver their message. Most citizens have no time to do the "real research." This media policy of paucity promotes incumbents and well-funded candidates.
Bill White acknowledges this himself. "[I]t has to be frustrating to keep trying and trying to get your message out -- in the back rooms of diners, in quiet hotel meeting rooms, on busy street corners -- knowing that in many cases, almost no one will show up, and no one will hear about it."
Many people, who don't really know the candidates or issues, stay away. And then the mainstream media will charge them with voter apathy.
But people really are hungry.
Yesterday, there were 669 visits and 1,643 page views on this very small blog. That's about 200 more than I'm used to seeing on any weekday. People are, in fact, interested in their own government. That's why it's sad to see so little attention from the mainstream. They are the pros. Bloggers lack their credibility. We need them.
Limited resources and space hamstring the mainstream. But the result is fewer votes and declining subscriptions. That's why the Internet is such a useful asset. The Morning Call did post election results online, and Jim Deegan had a terrific post about Mike Fleck's campaign signs in Easton.
Mainstream media could easily use the Internet to make campaign finance reports in local races available. I'll be trying that myself. They establish blogs for Mayfair and Musikfest - why not local races? Increased coverage of these local issues and elections, would both serve the public and might increase circulation.
Now I'll go back to picking my nose.