The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

Minority rule (or, Election Day is Nov. 5)

Download link at end of this column.A few years ago, we turned out a large portion of the wastrels in the state legislature. We The People were nearly uniformly unhappy with lawmakers who had, in the dark of night, given themselves a payraise.

[pullquote]Unfortunately for the majority that does not vote, we too often have government by minority rule.[/pullquote]

In the district of my home, our representative seemed to have a different excuse for each audience. He voted for it because he couldn’t stop it, he said. Besides, judges deserved a long-overdue payraise. He deserved a raise to pay for his lawyering education which, he said – after 12 years of being, by his own admission, essentially legislatively useless – would make him more effective representative of his district.

Many voters suspected he needed the money to pay for his new swimming pool.

So we sent him, and many more across the state, home. Message delivered. All politics is local.

This year, the election is mostly about local offices – county and municipal – here a tax collector, there a treasurer, in various places supervisors.

One might think there are no major issues, but state and national candidates look at local races to decide how to campaign. Did their district vote for the political party? Did a school board race turnout in favor of the public or privatized education system? Did township voters lean toward the environmentalist candidate or the pro-business candidate, or somewhere in between?

The clerk of courts is unopposed. I remember when she won the job – wearing out shoe leather when the incumbent seemed to rely on already having the job. Surprise!

A Democrat and a Republican are vying for Superior Court Judge. Superior Court judges handle civil cases, such as whether the property you think you own includes the natural gas or other elements below it. Many landowners think they own from surface to the center of the earth. Many landowners are wrong. Superior Court is the last arena where that fight takes place before moving to the State supreme court .

There are a few judicial “retention” elections – that’s where we decide whether to allow a judge to continue filling the position we voted him into 10 years ago.

County Sheriff Jim Muller is engaged in a race with challenger Michael Redding.

And there are several school board contests.

Township supervisors have authority to grant exceptions to zoning ordinances. They approve, or negotiate changes to, land use plans. School board members have little actual power to change state and federal regulations, but they do get to carry voters’ messages, and decide whether to attempt to raise local taxes to make up for cuts in state and federal spending.

A simple majority vote is all that is required to declare a winner in any election – as a candidate in the 2011 presidential election noted: 50 percent plus one vote. Unfortunately for the majority that does not vote, we too often have government by minority rule. If less than 20 percent of eligible voters show up – a common turnout for “off-year” elections – less than 10 percent of the county’s voters will be making decisions the rest of us will have to live with for at least the next four years.

True story: In a place where I once lived and plied my journalistic trade, a candidate for state representative seemed well on his way to winning the election. All the polls pointed to his victory. A group of his supporters stayed home to prepare the celebration party.

Had 12 of them gone to vote, he would have won.

Specimen ballots for Adams County precincts may be downloaded here:


  1. Timely and well stated.
    Here we are voting local to governor. Governor candidates are an ultra-conservative, a Clinton fund-raiser and a Libertarian who hopes to get 15% so he’ll get funding next time around.

    • And the Clinton fundraiser won it. One thing to count on – he probably won’t be mandating invasive examinations of your woman parts.

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