Gilbert Garcia penned a column today in the San Antonio Express-News suggesting that, because of the abysmal turnout in recent municipal elections, it is “Time to shake up S.A.’s municipal election system.”
Because increasing voter participation was an important component in Mayor Castro’s visionary SA 2020 program, you might think Garcia’s first point of inquiry would be to ask Hizzoner about this failure and what he proposes to do in the future. But you would be wrong. The media in San Antonio is just as infatuated with Mayor Castro as is the mainstream media in D.C. with President Obama, and thus discussing Castro failures is considered unseemly and excessively partisan.
Instead of posing any questions to Mayor Castro, columnist Garcia makes several sundry points:
- Increased voter apathy is not isolated to San Antonio; Austin is afflicted, too. [Your point?]
- Increasing pay for serving on the Council might enrich the field of candidates. [This suggestion is belied by the well-paid county commissioners.]
- Redistricting should be better communicated. [So? This has nothing to do with the declining number of voters.]
- Lengthening term limits seems to have reduced community interest instead of raising it. [Which sane person would have thought that lengthening term limits would raise community interest?]
Garcia’s solutions are as follows:
- Copy the city of Austin and move elections to November.
- Copy Joaquin Castro and Rey Saldana by putting more effort into reaching voters who don’t historically vote.
Although I appreciate Garcia’s attempt to examine this problem, I don’t think he did a very good job of executing, so I provided him with the following on-line comment:
- Gilbert, you may be aware that The Rivard Report addressed this issue a few days ago. According to Rivard, the problem is due to apathy or disillusionment, and he suggests that we increase turnout by making voting more convenient – i.e., on mobile devices. Your suggestion – i.e., November voting – could also be characterized as a convenience strategy. Both suggestions are superficial and don’t address the underlying problems of apathy and disillusionment. Although Rey Saldana’s strategy for pursuing low-interest voters is substantive instead of superficial (I think you previously commended Joaquin Castro for deploying the same strategy), it is a luxury that only candidates in dominant positions are likely to use.
- Another of your suggestions is to enrich the field of candidates by paying members of the City Council a living wage. That is inconsistent with a previous finding by your editorial board that the low pay for the City Council has not prevented it from having representatives who are at least as capable as the well-paid county commissioners. Instead of spending money on Council pay, I suggest using the same amount of money to provide for public financing of Council campaigns. That not only would enrich the field of with candidates who are averse to begging for campaign money, but also would decrease voter cynicism because they wouldn’t be forced to vote for candidates who have already sold out to the establishment and special interests.
- Another suggestion – the media has done a pretty good job of shaming the residents of San Antonio for not voting. After the election this year, it might be a good idea to do some positive reinforcement by commending those precincts, Districts, and demographic groups that performed their civic duty. Such publicity can result in increased peer pressure, both positive and negative, and that can be a force for good.