With another Election Day behind them, our elected officials in Orange County are now tasked to turn their attention from the challenges of the campaign trail to the challenges of governing. But following a sleepy election cycle in which all mayoral candidates ran unopposed and election results show most races were uncompetitive across the county, what message should our electeds take with them as they prepare to take their seats at the dais for new sessions?
With just 11.72% of eligible voters casting ballots in 2013, it’s unclear what message voters are sending. Was municipal turnout its lowest in over 10 years because voters simply don’t see any local issues directly affecting their lives? If so, does that mean voters are content with the status quo of the towns, which is why they didn’t get to the polls in the first place? Or are voters simply apathetic and nothing more can be discerned from the low turnout figure?
Source: Orange County Board of Elections
If the election wasn’t a referendum on how the towns should be growing and developing at a time when each town is making critical decisions that will have profound effects on what the Orange County of the future looks like, what was it exactly? There aren’t easy answers to these questions, yet our elected officials still have to govern and make the sometimes-hard decisions that come before them with, perhaps, a less-than-clear picture of what our community wants from its local governments and for its future.
One thing I can’t help but wonder is why turnout was so low when so much emphasis has been placed on community engagement and public input throughout several recent development proposals in Orange County, particularly during the Central West process. At the end of the day, elections are referendums on the actions taken by our elected officials, the ultimate way for community members to have their say on how their town should be run. If our community is unwilling to take the time to weigh in by casting their votes for the people who hold the final decision in their hands, then of what use and value are long, drawn-out, and persistently-extended development processes? And why do some members of our community continually take up the cry of “We’re not being heard” when the time to be heard is ultimately at the ballot box?
As our elected officials make the decisions that will shape the future of our community over the next two years, I hope they’ll ponder the questions raised by this year’s election during their decisionmaking. And I hope they’ll use these election results as a reality check to ground them during many of the heated discussions and debates about change, growth, and development that will inevitably come before them.