Citizen Participation

The November 2, 2021 general election in Johnson County saw the highest voter participation for a non-presidential election over the last 5 years at just over 25%. For races where the candidates narrowly won against a single opponent that means approximately 13% of the registered voters for the county selected the winning candidate.

These rates are not as bad as some other areas of the country. For example, in 2019 the Mayor for Houston, Texas was selected by just under 5% of the registered voters.

Given our form of government is a constitutional republic where officials are democratically elected by citizens and those officials are then given authority constrained by law, the low voter participation numbers fall far short of the goal. Instead, a comparatively small number of citizens are selecting our officials, or public servants as I prefer to call them.

One of the hopes of a constitutional republic is that public servants will be motivated to make good decisions and abide by the law because the citizenry is watching. If there is bad behavior, the citizens will nominate and support a better candidate in the future.

However, without higher participation rates, it is much easier for small groups to push their personal agendas and for public servants to start serving themselves. It is a simple fact of nature that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked”. It is just too easy for any of us to behave badly if left to ourselves.

What can be done?

  1. Get to know your local elected officials. You may have difficulty having a conversation with a U.S. Senator but it is fairly easy to have conversation with a Mayor, Commissioner, or Council member. I encourage you to pray for them.

  2. Attend public meetings regularly. You can watch recorded portions of public meetings but the recordings almost always don’t include the most interesting goings on. I recommend finding a friend and making a regular activity. You don’t have to do or say anything, just show up and listen. Then you can discuss the topics of the meeting with your friends.

  3. Share what you learn. You will learn more about how the local governments work and can inform people in your circle of influence about issues in the community. One word of caution; don’t make the mistake of thinking you know everything. Instead, be diligent to pursue the truth on any subject, be willing to listen and to admit that there are somethings you don’t know.

  4. Support good behavior. As a you get to know the public servants in your community, support their efforts. A great way to do this is to send them a post card thanking them for their service, praising their good work and even letting them know where you disagree with them. Email may be easy, but a post card is personal and will stand out. Other things you can do is promote people in your circle of influence or even volunteer to help with their campaigns.

Our constitutional republic depends upon the participation of its citizens. I offer you two quotes to motivate you to become more involved.

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

-John Adams

Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature… If the NEXT CENTENNIAL does not find us a great nation… it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces.

-James A. Garfield