EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 14, 2014

Editorial: Democracy at its worst

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Salem, N.H., voters face a $74.7 school renovation proposal at the polls next month. They also will be asked to approve a $69.3 million school budget.

That’s a lot of cash.

But just 285 registered voters attended the school deliberative session last week, less than 2 percent of the town’s 19,004 voters.

The town deliberative session was even less popular. Just 87 voters, less than 1 percent, attended that session.

Picture that empty auditorium and replicate it across Southern New Hampshire over the past two weeks, as New Hampshire voters work their way through their version of that antique New England institution, the annual town meeting.

In Windham, the percentages were nearly identical, less than 1 percent attendance at the town session, less than 2 percent for the school. Ditto in Pelham.

Derry has a tax rate of $31.49, up 3.2 percent over last year

When Derry property owners get their tax bills, there’s a collective groan.

Most of that tax bill goes to support local schools. Voters think they’re spending too much on education, taxing some of them right out of town.

Of Derry’s total staggering tax rate, the biggest bite of the apple comes from education taxes — $17.34 local and $2.62 state.

So, when voters were invited to discuss the proposed spending plan Saturday morning and ask their elected and hired officials to explain what all those tax dollars were getting them, just over 1 percent of the town’s 20,115 registered voters showed up.

It was even sorrier in neighboring Londonderry.

Less than 1 percent of that town’s 15,944 registered voters showed up for the school’s deliberative session Friday and the town’s deliberative session the following morning.

Look at the ballots in both towns for the upcoming March elections. Most races are hardly that.

Many open positions have just one candidate, some have none at all.

Voter apathy might just be at an all-time high.

Democracy is work, but it appears few local residents are willing to devote even a few hours to do their share.

We asked Facebook readers why they attended or why they stayed home.

Most who responded gave reasoned answers. They went to hear firsthand, they went to support education, they stayed away because they had to work.

Derry resident Mark Grabowski asked the question to which we have no answer.

“What is going to change the 99 percent voter apathy?” he asked. “Another editorial ... ? More meetings by the School Board with the local PTAs? Are the voters just going to wake up one day with a change of view on participating?”

The sessions are scheduled in an effort to accommodate working people, parents, busy residents.

Free babysitting is offered.

In Londonderry, the fabulous Lancer color guard presented the colors, accompanied by some fine musicians. Even that wasn’t enough to fill the seats.

Do towns and school districts have to offer more of an incentive than participatory government? Are door prizes next? Drawings for a $50 tax bill break or perhaps six fine-free months at the public library?

We have to wonder what will happen next month when the polls open for elections, budgets, bond issues and more.

Will more people turn out? Undoubtedly. Ten minutes at the polls is much less of an investment than a couple of hours listening to budget presentations.

But will those voters base their decisions on solid information, gut instinct, or just a yea or nay mentality?

As we remember Abraham Lincoln on his birthday this week, let’s also remember his words.

“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision,” he said. “If they turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”