Wednesday, May 22, 2024

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR: Your vote matters, and here's why

Managing Editor | May 10, 2024 2:00 AM

I recently met with a Moses Lake School District official who made a good point.

If all of the employees with MLSD had voted in favor of the maintenance and operations levy, the levy would have passed with ease. 

Instead, many of those employed by the district are looking at losing the resources they need to take care of the students in their charge and give them the education the community needs them to have. Further, some of them may very well lose their jobs because of cutbacks the lack of a levy may lead to. 

MLSD is considering its options to trim back on the budget while minimizing the impact for staff and students. There are hard decisions to be made. 

I don’t envy the MLSD School Board members for the choices they’ll be facing.

According to the most recent U.S. Census projections, Grant County has more than 101,000 residents. Of those, just a smidge over 26,000 are registered voters. In the most recent election in April, only about 34% of registered voters returned a ballot countywide. For the MLSD levy election, that drops to 32.4% according to the Washington Secretary of State’s Office. Basically, in local elections where votes statistically have more weight than in a presidential or even gubernatorial race, about two-thirds of those able to vote — simply aren’t. 

We’ve got one of the easiest voting methods in the U.S. A ballot comes in the mail and you can either drop it off at a ballot collection point after filling it out, or you can drop it back in the mail at no cost to you. 

The ages of voters are about what one might expect. Those 65 and older vote most often with their voting rates at about 54% statewide. It declines to about 35% when you look at folks aged 55-64 and drops to 26% for those 45-54. The 35-44-year-old crowd, likely those with the most children in schools, turns in ballots at a rate of about 21%, and voters younger than that look at about 12-13% turnout.

Basically, the people with the most to lose aren’t voting. The ones who want their children to have a chance to be in a play, letter in sports or participate in programs like Future Farmers of America just aren’t voting in strong enough numbers to make things happen for the students they love. 

School district elections aren’t the only concern, but are among the most vital elections we have. They decide what our future, our children’s futures and our grandchildren’s futures will be. 

Yet here we sit at 34% voter turnout countywide. 

I get it. Times are hard. Inflation is through the roof. Getting a bag of groceries is kind of mind-boggling when the total shows up on the register’s display. Car insurance in Washington is some of the most expensive in the nation. Then there’s the impact the Climate Commitment Act has had on fuel prices — and we all need that fuel to get to work or just take care of daily life. I can see why some people voted no on the MLSD and Wahluke levies that both failed. Budgets are tight, and getting tighter.

Still, the disappointing part here isn’t even so much that the levies were voted down. It’s that the electorate didn’t show up to perform their responsibilities to the communities they live in. 

Article I of the U.S. Constitution establishes the right of citizens to vote, which was clarified by four amendments — the 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th. Nearly a dozen federal laws and hundreds of state laws across the country look to protect that right. 

The Second Amendment establishes a right to bear arms and the First Amendment guarantees the right to own a firearm and the right to free speech, both with the understanding that using a firearm to hurt others outside of self-defense and screaming “Fire!” in a crowded theater have consequences. That’s because those rights are also responsibilities. 

So too is the right to vote. It’s not just something we should do when we feel like it or when our favorite politician in a blue or a red tie wants to sit in the Oval Office. It’s something we should do for all elections, whether that’s the Grant County Public Utility District Board of Directors election or the election that ensures our young folks get the education they deserve. It’s our responsibility to vote.

Vote your conscience, but vote. It might be the difference between a local child getting a solid education or getting frustrated with school and dropping out because there’s nothing at their school that appeals. 

It might even decide whether your child’s favorite teacher has a job next year.

With hope that we do better,

R. Hans Miller
Managing Editor