The turnout in recent city elections in Leavenworth has been dismal. In 2013, we had a 7 percent turnout. In 2015, we had an 11 percent turnout. In contrast, in the presidential election of 2016, nationally we had a 59 percent turnout, and in the off-year elections of 2014, nationally we had a 36 percent turnout.
The low turnout in city elections in Leavenworth has to be understood in the context of an international crisis of democracy. All over the industrial world, much of the public is angry about their political system. The central governments are seen as controlled by elites that are totally out of touch with the lives of ordinary people. In Europe, this anger takes the form of the Brexit vote in Great Britain to leave the European Union and in the strong vote for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in France.
In the U.S., this anger at government is expressed on the national level by the strong showing in 2016 of the various protest candidates. Donald Trump, in many ways the ultimate protest candidate, won the election and openly socialist Bernie Sanders came close to winning the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. Also, third party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson did much better than third parties usually do in U.S. elections.
On the local level, this anger at government is expressed by not voting. To many Americans, it seems that their lives are controlled by distant, uncaring politicians in Washington, D.C., so there is no point in wasting their time voting in local elections because these local officials have no ability to affect their lives.
I can appreciate the frustration many ordinary Americans feel with our current political system, but I still think that it is most important to vote in the sort of local elections we are having here in Leavenworth on Tuesday. The U.S. Constitution left considerable power in the hands of local authorities. Education is largely a local responsibility, although the role of state governments and the federal government in education has expanded significantly in recent decades. Most of the responsibility for law enforcement lies at the local level.
So, in sum, who is on the City Commission here in Leavenworth is a most important issue, and thus I strongly urge all registered voters to vote.
Let me conclude with a story that I always ask my fellow Leavenworth Times columnist John Reichley to tell at my candidate forums. Reichley knew an Iraqi officer at the fort in 2005 when Iraq had its first free election in decades. In order to vote, this officer and his family had to drive to Tennessee and back, a trip that took several days. But they willing did so because in countries like Iraq, people realize that the right to vote is a precious right that cannot be assumed to always be available to citizens. If these individuals were willing to make that sort of effort to vote, we here in Leavenworth have no excuse for not voting in our local, state and national elections.
Ernest Evans is a Leavenworth Times columnist.