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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: The Vote Cometh

Monday, April 1, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Gary Newton
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Senate Bill 587 is on deck

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 1, 2013

WORD on the street is that Senate Bill 587 might actually come to a vote this week in the full House of your Arkansas legislature. Keep an eye and an ear out-and maybe a nose-Gentle (but guarded) Reader. There are a lot of folks who don’t want this bill to pass.

Because there are a lot of folks who have a vested interest in your not voting in school elections.

That’s right. It’s better for some elected officials if you don’t go to the polls on Election Day. Specifically, it’s good for a lot of people who "serve” on school boards-and those who would control them. If school districts can hold their elections in, say, September or July or February or some other off month not exactly known for holding elections, then they can quietly get their people to the polls and swing the elections their way.

Who is They?

They are the incumbents on a lot of school boards, the bosses of local teachers’ unions, and anybody else who’d like to see a low turnout.

Senate Bill 587 would change all that by requiring school boards to hold their elections on the same day as all the others-at the general election. As in November. Which is when people expect elections and are paying attention to them.

THEN how do you suppose a body would go about opposing Senate Bill 587, hmm? Some sly pol or savvy union boss can’t just come out and say, hey, we don’t want you voting in this election. Don’t worry your pretty little heads about it. Let us decide who sits on your school board, and nobody gets hurt.

No. There’s got to be some more acceptable excuse for holding school board elections during the first few days of dove season or, even better, when it’s much too hot to think straight in these latitudes.

So the excuses go something like this:

"Sure, more voters might turn out in November, but that’s no guarantee those are informed voters.”

As the good folks over at the Arkansas Learns website point out, the Informed Voters argument is pretty much the same one that was once used to implement poll taxes and literacy tests all over the South a century ago. It was a slimy argument then and it is just as slimy-and self-interested-now. Elections should be free and open in this country. And well publicized and attended.

"Well then, school board candidates would just get lost in all the hoopla if a U.S. senator or governor or even president were on the ballot.”

Oh, please. Don’t insult the voting public. We the People are quite capable of voting in more than one election at a time without getting all confused, thank you. It happens all the time. In fact, it happens almost all the time, the notable exception being when school boards want to suppress voter turnout. And they do it by holding an election some time other than Election Day. It’s a simple trick but it’s tended to work. For years.

"School districts don’t align with other districts, so it’d be a hassle for election officials to get everybody the right ballot.”

This may be the lamest excuse of them all. Election officials do this for a living. Yes, a school district may not align with, say, a legislative district, but a state representative’s district might not align with a state senator’s district either, or any other geographical subdivision.Yet somehow elections in November are held every other year without any more than the usual confusion. This argument is an insult to voters’ intelligence-if it rises even that high. It’s less an argument, really, than an absurdity.

Have you noticed? Those who have an interest in keeping voter turnout low in school elections will say just about anything to keep their advantage. And keep school boards beholden to unions instead of to taxpayers, property owners, parents and voters in general.

Here’s a better argument: There should be no insider elections in a state with a motto like Regnat Populus. For here, The People Rule. Or should.

AND, MY, what a coincidence: It appears as though a lot of the votes against SB587 over the course of this legislative session have been cast by Democratic lawmakers. Can those be pretty much the same Democratic legislators who have been weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth over the Voter ID bill, claiming that the bill is just a sneaky way to suppress voter turnout?

It’s as if these legislators have no consistent core beliefs but just use any argument that comes to hand to serve their own purely partisan purposes. From day to day and from bill to bill.

It would seem a Voter ID bill would only suppress the vote of those who aren’t eligible to vote in the first place. But a bill like SB587 would increase voter turnout in school board elections. Tenfold, if not more.

If your legislator this coming week votes against encouraging a larger turnout in this state’s school elections-that is, if your legislator votes against SB587-you might want to ask him (or her) why. Do such legislators really believe in the democratic principles they claim to uphold, or just the Democratic Party’s partisan interests?

The answer to that question might come early this week.

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