Sometime in the murky past, the City moved the date of local elections to coincide with state and national elections. Local elections used to be in May, and now they fall in November.
The local English language daily endorsed the move with the ostensible goal of “encouraging more voter participation.”
Because voter participation is a good thing, right?
The real reason the local politicos (and hence, by extension, the El Paso Times) wanted to move local elections to coincide with national elections was to make citizens’ initiatives, like recalls, more difficult to get. Citizens initiatives require a fixed percentage of voters from the last local General Election, and national elections always draw more voters than the local elections.
Another benefit for the political class in El Paso is that media, like the El Paso Times, don’t have space or resources to cover both local and statewide or national politics, so local politics get short shrift. The local races get drowned out by coverage of the statewide or national elections.
And that’s a shame, because El Pasoans can influence local politics to a much greater degree than they can affect national politics, and local politics probably play a more integral part in the lives of El Pasoans than national politics, the current border situation notwithstanding.
Moving the election date helped the incumbents because the incumbents have more name recognition, and typically bigger war chests, because they’re in positions to help out the well-heeled citizens who benefit from local political largess. So the incumbents can buy more yard signs, and advertising, and hire more block walkers.
With the lack of local media coverage for local races, we get more voters to the polls, but they’re mostly uninformed voters who feel obligated to vote in the local elections even if they don’t know the candidates, because, you know, we’re all supposed to vote.
(Personally, I usually under-vote more than half of the local races because I don’t want to accidentally contribute to bad government.)
If we want to change local politics, we’re going to have to do the heavy lifting. We’re going to have to inform the uninformed. We have to talk to our friends and neighbors. But more than that. We have to talk to strangers. We have to go door to door, and to community meetings.
I’ve got some ideas of how we can fix local politics that I’ll share with you later.