Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Primary challenged

So here we are – once again – at a crossroads ... kind of.

Tuesday is primary day across the grand state of New York and there are elections galore ... kind of.

Actually, in the Niagara County Legislature, there are primary contests in less than half of the districts. The odds are higher that you don't have a legislature race to vote in Tuesday than that you do. And if you're in Erie County, your odds of voting aren't much better. Only six of 15 races have primary opponents.

And many of the races afford you the “opportunity to ballot” or right your candidate in – an arcane system designed to protect incumbency and the “party” hierarchy.

This is partly the reason so few people are willing to carry petitions and raise money and do the legwork to run for office. And then there's the people that run again and again, only to be crushed by the system and/or the electorate. It's sort of politics ... Sisyphus style. Roll the rock up the hill. Near the top. It slips and crushes you. Start over tomorrow ... or next year as the case may be for many of the perennial also-rans.

Many voters seem to sit the primary out. It's not as exciting. It's not as sexy. It's not as something. Who knows. But they wait until the November election before they decide to get out and vote. By then they have their choices between the incumbent (or a clone of that incumbent) and some person they've never heard of. And they throw their arms up in disgust, muttering something akin to, “Why do we always have to choose between the same lot of idiots?”

And they seem to forget that they had a chance to change the lot of idiots just two months prior, but took a pass.

Leonard Roberto, founder of Primary Challenge, has expressed his frustration with this process on numerous occasions. I've discussed it personally with him at a handful of chance meetings.

Primary Challenge knows that by the time you get to the general election, the die has been cast. The real opportunity for change comes in the primary itself – hence the name. And the main reason for that opportunity is the fact that fewer people get out to vote.

Simply put, if you're one of 1,000 people casting a vote, you get one one-thousandth of the decision. If you're one of 100 people voting, you get a hundredth of the vote, making your vote 10 times more powerful.

Now, the math might not be to scale. I've never been good with math. But the logic stands.

You may be to the point where you think I'm telling you to get your butt to the ballot box on Tuesday and vote. But I don't necessarily encourage that. Not unless you know what you're voting on.

Truly, the only thing worse than our apathy is our lack of knowledge on the issues before us. It doesn't matter how much you care about your community, if you don't know who stands for what, you're just voting for the sake of some misguided civic pride. It's kind of like driving with a blindfold on. You'll get somewhere, but the odds are you won't like it.

Fortunately, there are tools out there which you can inform yourself with. For example, your daily paper. Hint. Hint. Nudge. Nudge. But your time is running short. Do some reading. Figure out what you want. And pull the lever. Assuming you're in the minority of those who gets to vote.