Ventura is a city of more than 100,000 people and 60,000 registered voters. Yet when I was first elected to the Ventura City Council 11 years ago, I received only 8,000 votes – and I won in a landslide.
In other words, I was the runaway winner in that election, but only about 13% of Ventura’s registered voters cast their votes for me. Every time I went out in the community, most of the people I talked to hadn’t voted for me—or against me. Is it any wonder that most Venturans didn’t feel connected to City Hall – no matter what we did?
In a typical Ventura City Council election, only 25% to 35% of registered voters cast ballots at all. But Measure D on the November ballot can change that situation for the better, simply by switching the timing of the election. If Measure D passes, municipal elections will be switched from odd years to even years. They’ll coincide with state and national elections and voter turnout will double – at least. (Measure E would make the same change for Ventura Unified School Board elections.)
That’s why I favor Measure D (and Measure E as well) and I hope you will vote “yes” on both measures in the upcoming election.
I can tell you from personal experience that city government doesn’t work when people don’t vote.
Much more than Congress or the state legislature, the city government is a part of people’s daily lives. In Ventura, your city government provides you with water and sewer service, runs the parks and recreation programs, ensures your safety with police officers and firefighters, paves your street, trims your street trees, and does lots of other things that you can touch and feel on a daily basis. The city government is not an alien force, as the federal government often seems. It is an extension of your life, your home, and your neighborhood in a very intimate way.
In order for the relationship between Ventura’s residents and City Hall to work well, people have to feel invested in their government – that they have helped to shape it and that they are partners with each other and with City Hall in helping to ensure that every resident has what they want and need.
But if people don’t vote, then they’re not invested. They may view themselves as “customers” of the city – “buying” water or recreation programs or tree trimming. As such they won’t be afraid to complain when something goes wrong. But they won’t view themselves as “citizens” participating in the process of creating the municipal government that provides them with the services they need.
I wish it didn’t matter when Ventura’s elections were held. I wish all Ventura’s residents would vote in the municipal elections. But that’s not what happens. Here’s what statistics on the Ventura County Registrar of Voters web site tell us:
-- In the last three even-year elections (2008, 2010, 2012) combined, voter turnout has been 74%.
-- In the last three odd-year elections (2009, 2011, 2013) combined, voter turnout has been 27%.
The main argument against Measure D is that our local issues will get lost in the shuffle of big state and national elections. I think it’s pretty clear that this assertion isn’t true. Every other city in Ventura County holds even-year municipal elections. They’re lively affairs and they get a lot of publicity. They don’t get lost in the shuffle.
Governing a city is a covenant between the voters and the elected officials. If people don’t vote, it’s hard for the elected officials to honor that covenant – or even know what that covenant includes. Please strengthen this covenant between the people of Ventura and their elected officials by voting in favor of Measures D and E this fall.
William Fulton, a former Mayor and City Councilmember in Ventura, is now Director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University.