The City Council is discussing the city’s overwhelmingly successful Vote By Mail program again. But they’re not celebrating the fact that it doubled participation in last year’s election. Instead, they’re whining about how much Vote By Mail cost the city.
We’ve been over this before:
1. Vote By Mail’s detractors were out in force before the 2011 election. Jim Manilla and Wesley Nugent campaigned on their opposition to it. This before anybody even knew if it was an idea that would work.
2. Those detractors were wrong. Vote By Mail increased participation in the city’s Council elections, upping it from an abysmal 1497 votes in 2009’s elections to 3699 votes in 2011’s elections. In other words: voter participation more than doubled under the new voting mechanism.
3. Those detractors then have to hide behind claims that the new program cost too much to administer, an argument that makes sense only if you consider total cost while ignoring each program’s relative level of efficiency. (As you can imagine, Ron Bane has championed this strategy.) In 2009, elections cost the city more than $10 per vote cast. In 2011, elections cost the city less than $10 per vote cast. In other words, vote by mail was a more effective means of getting the city’s citizens to participate. Here, in case you’re wondering, are the numbers I’m relying on.
Most confusingly, you’d think Manilla and Nugent and Bane* could bolster the Vote By Mail program and turn it to their political advantage. “First of all, we want to acknowledge we were wrong to campaign against Vote By Mail. Everything we feared ended up being a success. We embrace the plan and want to make it better. Our goal is participatory city elections with high turnout. Nothing is better for a democracy. To that end, we propose to…” and then list the things that could make Vote By Mail better.
But I fear we won’t be hearing anything like that. I’ve gotten the distinct impression that devolving back to the city’s old voting program is the preferred outcome, ostensibly because that will save the city money (while costing more for each vote). My worst fear though is that the opposition to Vote By Mail runs deeper than simply wanting to save the city a few dollars. My instinct is that those candidates believe they’ll have an easier time winning if they only have to reach out to the voters who are accustomed to voting in person at the city’s few remaining neighborhood schools and community centers. Manilla and Nugent and Bane, under the guise of being responsible spenders, are trying to insure their own re-election by increasing the start-up costs (who will now not only have to get their own names out there, but get their own supporters to a polling place on a specific day, rather than simply encouraging them to mail their ballots back) for new candidates.
Although we cannot know what the Council will do as it deliberates on this issue, one thing should be clear: citizens should be hugely suspicious of any City Councillor that proposes mechanisms for voting which are more costly and less efficient than vote by mail. Their actions will suppress voter turnout in the city and that is plainly undemocratic.
*I haven’t mentioned Linda Herbst here. She’ll do whatever those three tell her to do. Which means that if the three of them want to get rid of Vote By Mail, she’ll be the fourth vote to do it.