Too many Fort Dodgers failed to vote

Democracy can’t work if citizens ignore civic responsibilities

Tuesday’s City Council primary election was disappointing. This newspaper has no quarrel with the election results. We do, however, have great concern about the failure of so many eligible voters to show up at the polls.

According to the unofficial election results, 958 ballots were cast. Since Fort Dodge has 14,490 registered voters that is a pathetically low turnout. Even had twice as many citizens voted, the turnout would have been dismal. The failure of so many to participate in the election process should worry us all.

Some political scientists say one of the biggest reasons people don’t vote is that they claim the outcome of elections doesn’t have an impact on their lives. It also is common for some Americans who don’t show up at the polls to justify their choice not to participate by arguing that their vote won’t really matter because so many votes are cast.

If you are one of those who think that individual voters don’t matter, it may be useful to reflect a bit on history.

In the 2000 presidential election, if a few more people had showed up to vote in Florida, George W. Bush might now be known primarily for his service as governor of Texas. In 1960, the presidential vote was so close that the outcome was decided by about one vote per precinct nationwide. Right here in Iowa, in the 1998 Democratic primary, Tom Vilsack won his party’s nomination by less than two votes per precinct.

A few nonvoters could have altered subsequent history mightily. In local elections that is quite often the case.

The belief some Americans hold that who wins will have no impact on them personally is especially worrying. That notion may, in part, be the product of living in a country where democratic institutions have been the norm so long that people assume they always will be. The only guarantee that those institutions will survive, however, is citizen vigilance.

Over time, such nonparticipation undermines the legitimacy of the governmental system. It becomes hard to claim that officeholders reflect the will of the public when so many people had no role in their selection.

Many important decisions about the future of Fort Dodge will be made in the years ahead by the individuals who serve on our town’s City Council. The overwhelming majority of our community’s citizens chose on Tuesday to have no say in who the candidates who will be on the ballot in November will be. That abdication of the opportunity to influence the composition of the City Council is shameful.