Minute with Mike - Comparing election results

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 3/24/99.

I hope the recent township election results reflect voters satisfaction with their local government. (See results in the March 17 Press.)

Voter turnout in several townships was­to be polite­anemic. In my township, Roseville, only 27 votes were cast. I wasn't one of them. Now my neighbor will know that I didn't vote for him. Sorry!

Bill Ryan didn't actually need my vote, though, as he collected 93 percent of the votes.

Actually, the low turnout interests me because you hear so much these days about less government and more local control. Well, you don't get much more local than township elections, but almost all of the races around Paynesville gathered marginal interest.

It may be argued that not much important was at stake because decisions are mostly made at the county, state, and federal levels, but I don't believe that. Maybe it's too easy for voters to be complacent about township government. Maybe this paper neglects township issues and decisions. Maybe township governments are more comfortable working outside the limelight.

In two townships, it was obvious that issues exist with which voters are concerned. Eden Lake Township had more voters than all the other townships combined. I think that shows the importance of zoning issues, and the power of the township board.

In Paynesville Township, an uncontested race after the filings closed became a race because of a write-in candidate. I heard that the re-elected supervisor said the next time he would pay the $2 himself that his opponent needs to file for election.

I agree completely. Covert campaigns subvert democracy. The idea behind a democracy is that the majority decides. Newspapers feel they play an important part in our democratic system by providing the public the information they need to make decisions on election day.

In America, the birthplace of modern democracy, we like to think we still have the best democracy in the world, but I'm not always so sure. Really our recent results aren't exactly a shining beacon for Papua New Guinea (PNG), where I served as a Peace Corps volunteer. They could use one to which to aspire.

National democracy was introduced into PNG. Traditionally, decisions were made on a clan or village basis. Now election decisions are made that way. Villages will decide on a candidate and then overwhelmingly vote for him or her.

The national parliament has 109 seats. The local districts each include about 50,000 people. In many, less than ten percent of the votes are needed to win. Where I lived in Lumi, the Aitape-Lumi District winner needed only a few thousand votes.

Most districts have a slew of candidates because being elected a Member of Parliament (MP) is the pinnacle of success in PNG. Teachers would quit their jobs to campaign for the election. MPs are well paid; plus they have access to a yearly fund for their district. Elections were so heated that fraud is attempted, fights erupt, and ballot boxes must be airlifted by helicopter. After the 1997 national elections, a student at my school was raped on her way back to school because of the way her village voted.

I would chuckle about the elections with other expatriates and and even my national teaching colleagues. With nationals, though, I never was completely candid. A common complaint in PNG was that politicians were crooks and didn't serve the people by providing needed services. Most of the people voted for a local candidate, and, if he or she didn't win, their area rightly didn't feel represented by the winning candidate.

In Lumi, the most amusing part of the race in our expatriate eyes was the role of roads. Each candidate would support a road to Aitape through a different village. Some were started and then neglected when funds ran out. Torrential rains could ruin the intended link.

Last year, they celebrated the start of the Fatima-Aitape road. Actually, it was only the start of construction. Politicians there can't afford to wait until the road is finished because they wouldn't have many celebrations that way.

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