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Friday, September 29, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 66, Issue 29

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Voter apathy gets us nowhere fast

Margaret Mitchell

This is one of the big election years. When the polls open in November, several important issues will be on the ballot, including electing a president, members of Congress and a district attorney, and deciding whether or not we want to build a basketball arena downtown.

Presidential election turnout is about 50 percent, while run-of-the-mill local elections draw 30 percent of voters and participation in runoffs can go as low as 2 percent. This phenomenon is usually described as "voter apathy." You know it's a fact, but do you know why it happens?

Sure, many people think more people don't vote because they are lazy or don't really care, but I think there's more to it.

Consider what participating in an election means: You have to make a choice on a person or an issue. But on what do you base that choice? Where do you get the information to make your choice? Do you go out and try to find information so you can make an informed decision, or just do whatever the Chronicle recommends?

What about listening to the ads on TV? Is TV a good way to get to know who or what you are voting for? I think only a fool makes decisions based on a 30-second commercial, but I can understand the temptation.

I think one big cause of apathy is the way our government functions in general. Earlier this week, for example, I went to the Houston Homeowners' Association meeting to listen to City Councilwoman Annise D. Parker and representatives from the city's legal, planning and development and building permit departments talk about what they can and can't do. Boy, was that an eye-opener.

I've always suspected those working in city government are inefficient, but I really had no idea how bad it was until I listened to the director of planning and development go on about what he would not (not could not) do. Part of what he has no intention of doing is enforcing laws already on the books or assessing fines for breaking those laws. Great.

I find the director to be hostile, and I think he has been in his job too long. We would all like the people whose job it is to run our government, elected officials and bureaucrats alike, to be experienced. But when experience makes officials jaded, it's time for them to get out. Of the 100 people in the room, I think at least 98 of them wanted to run the guy out of town on a rail.

What's the solution? Should we do something about the situation or forget about it? That's not an easy question to answer, because the nature of government has ensured that those who need to be gotten rid of most are the ones who have the best job security. This is not very encouraging.

Despite all this, I intend to go to the polls for this election the same way I have since I turned 18. I'll admit that casting my single vote may not ensure that things I want fixed will get fixed, but without it, there's no possibility that they ever will.
 

Mitchell, a junior political science major,
can be reached at smeggie37@compuserve.com.
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