Saturday, January 20, 2018
Politics

Low voter turnout enables a tiny group to topple a giant

Scary stuff, they said. At the very least, a political wakeup call.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's loss to a relative unknown in a Republican primary in Virginia on Tuesday supposedly unnerved every office holder in the land.

That is, I guess, how it should be.

But the dismay should not end there.

You should be scared, too.

For what happened in Virginia was not a policy mandate of any sort. It was not the vindication of a movement or a colossal shift in American values.

More than anything, it was a lesson in the power of the politically active. A cautionary tale of how the future can be altered by a relatively small group of committed voters.

This is not meant to disparage professor and tea party candidate David Brat, but he beat Cantor by getting roughly 36,000 of 65,000 votes cast on Tuesday. That's 36,000 people in a district with nearly 500,000 registered voters.

To further put that in perspective, more than 220,000 Virginians voted for Cantor in that same district in a general election about 19 months ago.

The lesson?

A relatively popular, and undoubtedly powerful, politician was just toppled by a tiny group of motivated voters because the majority of adults in that district were too busy, lazy or disinterested to grab a ballot.

You might want to think about that as political yard signs start popping up in your neighborhood in the coming weeks.

For elections are not only determined by the trustworthiness, policies and resumes of candidates, but also by their ability to get you to the polls.

In other words, do you trust your bank manager to choose our next governor? Do you trust your pool guy on the medical marijuana amendment? Do you trust your newspaper columnist on any decision of importance?

Turnout for the special congressional election in Pinellas County in March was less than 40 percent of registered voters. And that was a big step up from Pinellas municipal elections in November that got about 31 percent of eligible voters out of their seats.

This has nothing to do with the merits of Brat vs. Cantor or David Jolly vs. Alex Sink or Rick Kriseman vs. Bill Foster. It has everything to do with electing the candidate who best represents an area, as opposed to a candidate best able to rally the troops.

I'm just cynical enough to believe Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson's sudden interest in the Amendment 2/medical marijuana campaign in Florida has more to do with energizing the conservative base than worrying about cannabis oils. And I'm sure plenty of people would say the same of lawyer John Morgan and his hefty bankrolling of the pro-marijuana campaign.

I bring all of this up merely to remind you that the direction of this state will be decided sooner than you realize. The deadline to register for the Democratic primary for the governor's race is 46 days away. To be eligible to vote in the general election, you have less than four months to register. Early voting begins in mid October.

You may like Rick Scott over Charlie Crist. You may like Lucas Overby over Jolly. You may like a potted plant over Pam Bondi. That is your right. It is your opinion and your choice.

But it is also your responsibility to make sure your voice is heard.

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