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Waking up the disinterested voters

Publisher’s notebook

OBSERVER Photo Up until Tuesday’s dissolution vote, Sinclairville election participation has often been in the dark.

Having the privilege to cast a ballot in the United States also gives you the right to be an uninformed voter. As long as you are registered with the county Board of Elections, you can go to the polling sites with a blindfold on or flip a coin for each of your choices.

It sounds crazy, but being a democracy does not always equal the best choices. Consider those who only show up to vote based on a candidate’s political affiliation. If they are loyal to their party, then they normally go across one line.

How about school board budget votes? Usually those district residents have little idea of the total cost of the spending plan, which is normally highly subsidized by Albany to the tune of 60% to 75%. They just vote “yes” as a support of public education, especially if they have children attending schools.

Frankly, many voters cannot comprehend a multi-million dollar budget. To be fair, those we elect sometimes do not have the capacity to do so until their second or third year in office if ever.

Spending decisions are supposed to be tough. But when elected officials decide to spend government funding that is not coming right from their pocket and does not have to be worked for or earned, it gets a lot easier.

That brings us to the Sinclairville vote of Tuesday. In past village elections, getting residents to turn out there was a chore.

With a population of less than 600 residents, a 2017 election had a local official practically giddy when it came to the official number of residents who voted at the polls: 39. “This was a great turnout,” the official was quoted as saying. “Last year only 13 people voted. We are considering moving our elections to November to get more people (to the polls).”

Participation in 2018 was not much better. That year, a whopping 17 total votes were cast when no one was on the ballot for two open trustee seats. The big winner tallied nine votes when the second-place finisher had three.

Sound convincing?

Turns out all you really need to do to get people to the polls is to threaten to dissolve a municipality that provides few services. On Tuesday, 128 voters — or 111 more than in 2017 — came out to make sure their municipality would live to survive another four years.

For what? Just one more layer of taxation and government? If it was all about keeping an identity, let this corner assure those Sinclairville residents that outside of Western New York this village has no name recognition.

No offense, but it is just about the same for every other municipality in this county with the exception of Jamestown, Fredonia and maybe Dunkirk. Jamestown has gained recognition in the last year with the National Comedy Center, while Fredonia is home to a State University of New York. Dunkirk, however, has a reputation that is similar to Rome, N.Y. Yes, many know your name, but not for your current location.

Another sour dose to the Sinclairville result was the fact that village officials, which had plenty at stake in this referendum, did not allow the county Board of Elections to handle the balloting. Instead, they took it on for themselves.

While the margin of victory was not close — 28 votes separated the “no” from the “yes” — it still gives an impression of having a bit of bias. Consider this fact alone: some handling and counting the ballots would have lost jobs if the proposal did pass.

For now, however, those taxpayer-funded positions that do very little on a daily basis remain alive and viable. It is not because village residents came to the polls educated on the savings or advantages to dissolving a municipality. Many came based on emotion and the fear of possibly losing something that has no impact on their quality of life.

Now if we can only get these same voters to care as much in the annual elections.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.

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