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The voter count for Lake Placid’s court referendum was disappointing

July 7, 2016
Editorial , Lake Placid News

It's sad how few Lake Placid residents voted in the June 28 referendum on whether to keep the village court.

We're not commenting on the election's result, which was 104-72 to keep the court - just on the voter turnout.

Newspapers certainly did our part in the democratic process to inform people of the special election. The News made the referendum its lead story for the week prior, and the Adirondack Daily Enterprise put stories on it above the fold on page A1 multiple days, including the day of the election. In addition to the news stories, we published Guest Commentaries on the issue and ran a web poll on it leading up to the vote. We got into how dissolving the village court would save taxpayers - estimates ranged from $30,000 to $60,000 a year.

Readers seemed uninterested, however. On social media, our posts on the topic were passed over. And on referendum day, just 176 people voted.

We understand that it's not terribly exciting stuff, and we expected a small turnout. Special elections never get much. Even for general elections, we celebrate if half of registered voters show up at the polls - and keep in mind that a whole lot of eligible voters aren't registered. But 176 people in a village of 2,500 year-round residents! That's only 11 percent of the 1,600 Placidians who voted in the last general election.

It's worth thinking about the high turnout in recent referendums in the United Kingdom: Last week, 72 percent of voters turned out nationwide to decide on leaving the European Union (the majority decided to leave), and in September 2014, 85 percent of eligible Scottish voters participated in the decision on whether Scotland should leave the UK (it didn't). Granted, those were much weightier decisions, but local court consolidation is not nothing. We talk all the time about reducing taxes and making government more efficient, but also about the quality of local services. This stuff matters, but most Placidians acted like it didn't.

When turnout is low, electoral decisions are less representative of the whole people's will but just as binding.

Maybe people felt like they didn't care one way or another, but it affects their taxes - not much, but some. It could affect them or their friends and family members if they are charged with a crime or need to file (or defend against) a small claim. There are many low-level obligations in one's life that one must simply do - paying bills for instance.

Who makes our decisions for us? Often it's the people who bother to show up.



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