Voter apathy was on the minds of some community members who participated in the Thursday workshop on the Ceres General Plan update - with good reason. They'd like to change that but just how is the $64,000 question.
The Stanislaus County Clerk's office recently released information showing that a dismal 15.93 percent of eligible registered voters turned out for the Nov. 3 ballot, which had two local measures at stake.
The countywide voter turnout was better but still embarrassing low at 22.8 percent.
Ceres is home to 17,453 registered voters but only 2,781 voted last fall. It's apparent in reviewing the voter breakdown that some who voted skipped balloting for Measure D and Measure E - probably because they were unsure how to vote. A total of 67 voters didn't weigh in on Measure D and 63 didn't mark yes or no on Measure E.
I called Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra with the data and he was in tune with it.
"Pretty sad, isn't it?" he told me. "It's disappointing."
Measure D passed by a margin of 1,846 (68.04 percent) to 867 (31.96 percent). The measure does away with the at-large way of electing members of the Ceres City Council and sets up four council districts. No longer will a candidate face all voters in Ceres but only those in his council district.
An increase in the hotel tax in Measure E was passed by voters in a 1,571 (57.82 percent) to 1,146 (42.18 percent) vote outcome. The tax will increase from five to 10 percent at both of Ceres' motels - the Howard Johnson Inn and Microtel Inn. The Transient and Occupancy Tax (TOT) will also apply to all rooms at future motels and hotels.
Vierra fears that with the passage of Measure D, Ceres could wind up with elected councilmembers who won on several hundred votes to represent a city of 47,000.
"It really isn't going to take very many votes to get somebody elected and they're making decisions for the city," said Vierra. "It appears as if people in the city don't really care - and I don't think we're any different than any other jurisdictions."
Voter apathy is particularly sad, he said and I agree with, given that many U.S. military servicemen and women have died or invested other great sacrifices defending freedom and the right to vote "and then people don't go and vote. They just complain."
It's not like voting is a difficult exercise. The mayor told me that "The state has done just about everything far short of pulling the lever for you. You don't even have to go to the polls anymore. You can do absentee voting."
Vierra said he walked precincts in the last election with a list of registered voters who voted in past elections, and found some streets where not one person bothered to vote. There was a lot of voter apathy in Eastgate, prompting the mayor to wonder if it's because the newer residents feel no sense of civic commitment or obligation.
Lee Lundrigan, the Stanislaus County clerk-recorder, said voter turnouts will appear to be diminishing with the new state law that registers voters when they apply for driver's licenses.
Historically in America, people stayed in one place and voted all the time, said Lundrigan. When voter participation waned, the state Legislature attempted to improve registration.
"The more you improve voter registration, the less your turnout because you're basically forcing people to register who were never going to vote. So you're going to see these numbers go down."
Lundrigan won't say it's a good law or bad law but does think the state's manipulation is not always the best thing.
I think it's a terrible idea for the very reason Lundrigan explains: Why force somebody to register when they don't give a hoot in the first place.
Nobody seems to have an idea how to get people to vote. But I happen to think the answer lies in schools and parents. Schools have got to do a better job of stressing the importance of civic responsibility, particularly in local elections for officials who tend to have the greatest direct impact over our lives.
Voting is important. Getting our young people to understand that is up to each of us. Set a good example and make it a priority.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org