Even small-town democracy relies on voters

Commentary

Although being an elected official is not for everyone, politics in general these days have become very popular, except, for some people in the village of Westfield, so it appears this last election.

Could it be true you are among the majority of residents in the village of Westfield unaware of the local elections that take place in March? Specifically speaking, this past March 19? In fact, it may have been one of the worst voter turnouts the village has experienced, maybe ever. I don’t have many statistics, just the results, past knowledge and of course word of mouth, which seems how many things are communicated in our small town, well, except for this past election.

I always enjoy going to vote, no matter what the case, exercising my right and freedom. So I try to stay informed, but it takes an effort that it should not. This past election was for our mayor and two seats on the Village Board of Trustees. A little over one half of the decision making process, a pretty significant and important election and yet, it was barely even discussed throughout the village. There were no campaign signs, no information posted at our village hall (Eason Hall) and no handouts or mailings went out. I believe the only information that was made available was the legal notice in the newspapers of who was selected at the caucuses.

March 19 was a beautiful day. At approximately 5 p.m. when I arrived at Eason Hall to vote; only one other person was there, besides the dedicated volunteers running the voting process. I said “hmm… slow day?” hoping I was just there at a slow moment. The response … “You are number 27.”

I actually thought they were joking, but it was validated I actually was the 27th voter. The 27th, out of a potential 2,500 Westfield residents eligible to vote. The polls had been open since noon. I should have been stunned to say the least, and I was, actually I was disgusted. Yes, disgusted. I stood there holding my ballot, so upset in that moment I said out loud, well if they don’t care about getting votes, I will vote for myself, and I did.

I cast a vote for myself by writing in my name on the ballot just as anyone could do for anyone who is a village resident. When I got home I wondered, how many more votes could I get? It was about 6 p.m., polls would close at 9. In an under three-hour extremely meager attempt, I was able to pull out 13 write-in votes… All of which would otherwise not have been votes at all because they were not aware it was Election Day in Westfield… Makes you wonder doesn’t it?

What is worse? More people could have voted, but several stated they couldn’t make it out on such short notice, and some were not even in Westfield at the time. Each person I contacted was so surprised at not knowing about the election, some were even upset, like I was. I mean, the same people were up for re-election and an overwhelming amount of our community had no clue it was happening. So just how many more didn’t know? And why didn’t they? It was not a case of people not wanting to vote, it was a case of people not knowing there was an election. I fault those who were on the ballot for not making the election important and not putting the election in the face of the community.

I will say flatly, I am disappointed no level of importance was put on campaigning for the upcoming positions. What does this say to all of the residents? In my opinion, it is the duty of the incumbent or candidate to inform the public they are up for election or re-election.

All candidates in the March 19 election were running uncontested, no competition, seems that is the underlying argument or excuse not to campaign, but were they really without competition and is it just about winning? It is true I admit, I didn’t know much about any of this until I ran as an unopposed candidate for a seat on the village of Westfield Board of Trustees in 2016 and took office.

However, when I was chosen for the opportunity I felt it to be a privilege. My community selected me to be in a position to help decide how to spend their money. I campaigned, talked to people about village issues and plans, I put out yard signs, made cards to handout, I posted on social media and in general I told everyone I could about the election, despite “not having any competition.” To me, becoming or being elected an official by ones peers, was not about competing for the spot, rather it is about knowing the privilege of the position and the responsibility it holds. It is a duty, at minimum, to serve. Yes serve and inform the public of what is going on. I was humbled at the turnout of my election, receiving 134 votes with no opposition on a terribly cold day in March and only having lived here for six years. So why do you suppose the voter turnout for this past election in total was at a sad 87, out of the approximately 2,500 residents that could have voted?

Three hours — 13 write-in votes. Very little effort and very scary.

I was not out for a win, I am not in a position to serve on the board currently, but if I had actually won, I would have accepted. The purpose to my effort was to make a strong point about what could happen given the opportunity and how simple and important it is to engage your community. Which is exactly what the candidates didn’t do, engage or give the residents the opportunity to vote. It is the right of the people to decide if they are going to vote, and for whom. I am sure the majority of residents would forget to pay their village bills without a reminder, but those sure make it out on time each month, why is this different?

Residents of the village of Westfield, in case you didn’t see the results in the Dunkirk OBSERVER page 5B in the legal notices on March 29 or in the legal notices section of the Westfield Republican April, 4, they are included in this article. So, I ask you, were they all running unopposed? I was in the running and no one other than the residents I contacted had a clue, until the votes were tallied. What if I had started campaigning for a write-in a week before hand? What if someone else silently campaigned to become mayor? What if someone else did it just to do it, but was not the right person for the office, and because our village incumbents, with their names on the ballot didn’t think it was important enough to campaign, some other person could have won. What if? I find no campaigning, not making the election important, and not engaging the community unacceptable. Everyone should have been given the opportunity of being informed and it is the job of who is up for election to do their part. The residents I had contacted were happy to go vote, they wanted to vote, most were upset they didn’t know. From then until I wrote this letter I asked everyone I ran into about the election, not one person I talked to knew about it and as a side note, they also said they would have voted for me.

This has brought me to concrete unchangeable thoughts. If the village does not put into place a better election process to include mandatory campaign guidelines for all candidates, at least a month notice at Eason Hall, mailings and informational reminders on some level, even on our electric bills for example, about the March elections, then the election should absolutely be moved to the November election time frame with the town.

I would like to take the opportunity at this moment to thank the residents who went out at the spur of a moment to vote for me, knowing I was not going for a win but to shed some light on what is going on. I also thank those who supported me, but could not make it out, all of you are the reason I love Westfield and this community and I will be a voice when you need one.

Jill Santi is a Westfield resident.

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