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We can’t find time for one-day voting

Editor's Corner

OBSERVER Photo by Anthony Dolce Drastically lower participation by voters in Tuesday’s school elections indicates we find one-day elections too inconvenient.

After all the results were tallied on Tuesday night following the landslide school budget approvals, there was one other major question: has voting become inconvenient for too many residents? At a quick glance, the answer would be a resounding “yes.”

Compared to last year, turnout in the educational arena was a dud. At Jamestown Public Schools, only 677 voters — 2,865 fewer than 2020 — made their voice heard on a spending plan and district board candidates. In Dunkirk, the second largest county district, 246 — or 1,102 less voters — cast a ballot.

Smaller districts saw similar dismal trends with voter participation. Brocton had a total of 153 voters this year compared to 841 in 2020. Randolph, with 633 ballots cast in 2020, had only 144 this year. Even Forestville, a community that loves its school, had four times fewer residents coming to the polls with 113 taking part.

Probably the district with the best showing was Bemus Point. There, 417 voted Tuesday compared to 965 last year.

When making these comparisons in voting, it must be emphasized that results like these were not just found in Chautauqua County. Across the state, turnout was bleak and passage of the proposed budgets was nearly perfect.

Preliminary results compiled by the New York State School Boards Association revealed residents approved 99.2% of the plans. “We appreciate the many who turned out — in person or by absentee ballot — to approve local school budget proposals and elect school board members this year,’ said Robert Schneider, State School Boards Association executive director. “The high passage rate for proposed budgets is a welcome endorsement of spending plans that will strengthen our educational programs and restore some of the academic and student support services that were curtailed by the pandemic.”

Overall, these numbers also reveal a couple of realities moving forward. First, do we need to continue a tradition of approving school budget plans? Very few — judging by the state numbers alone — are contentious. Besides, residents seem to believe it is their obligation to say “yes” once they arrive at the district.

Additionally, there is a tax cap in New York state, which limits the annual growth of the tax levy imposed by school districts to 2% or the rate of inflation. Any district staying within that cap should be able to bypass a vote. Those above it, call for a referendum.

Another major issue is that of how engaged county residents — and Americans — are when it comes to elections. Last year, for example, the vote came to the people.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, residents in each district were mailed a ballot for the school elections last spring. It led to eye-opening participation when you look at this year’s rates. Fredonia, for example, had 2,011 responses compared to 620 this year. Southwestern had 1,373 compared to 249 this week. Cassadaga Valley went from 1,031 in 2020 to 116 this year.

Considering those figures from the previous year, do we need to do more to make voting convenient? Is mail or an electronic option something that may someday be considered?

We already have early voting, which seems to be gaining in popularity with each primary and November election. Some, however, will never change from going to the polls on the traditional day. Others, for the sake of convenience, have already changed their habits.

Maybe, in some way, casting a ballot has become another victim of social media. It is easy for users to put out opinions on different platforms, even if they are not accurate.

Voting, however, requires a bit more effort and accountability. It also requires a commitment to get to the polls.

In a society that has come to expect convenience with just about everything, do we need to move that way with elections to preserve a democracy? Just as important, can we do it in a way that everyone can agree upon?

John D’Agostino is the editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and the Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 253.

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