If you haven’t heard, local Republican party officer Larry Helm bested long-time farming advocate Joy Monjure in the race for Whatom Conservation District supervisor. The race was close, with Helm squeaking by with 86 votes more than Monjure, while 265 ballots were ruled invalid.
Just twenty-four hours later, Monjure’s fellow legislative candidate, Satpal Sidhu was appointed to the County Council to fill out the remainder of Sam Crawford’s term. This appointment is historic as Sidhu will be the first Sikh member of the County Council, where a century ago the Sikh’s were expelled from this County in a vicious racist riot.
This appointment was made possible by the four solid Democratic votes (Weimer, Mann, Buchanan and Browne), who were swept into office by the record turnout in the 2013 elections. Retiring councilman Pete Kremen also voted for Sidhu while Barbara Brenner, continuing her Kiwi-ish trends, voted for Jim Cozad.
So what does this all mean? How are these two connected? Consider this:
The total number of people voting is rapidly becoming the number one indicator over whether an election goes liberal or conservative.
When more people vote, the vote usually swings towards team Blue. When there are factors that limit participation, the vote goes to team Red.
Returning to the Whatcom Conservation District election. Ballots were not mailed to every possible voter in late October, ballots had to be requested or you had to vote in person in a strange little office in the middle of March. With so many limiting factors, only around 4,000 people voted and the vote went conservative.
You can see this in national trends. Presidential election years bring waves of Democratic legislators while off-years bring conservatives. With the current demographic trends, it is difficult to imagine a Republican taking back the White House in 2016 (although Democrats can always be relied upon to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory . . . see Hillary Clinton circa 2008). However, they will contend with an ever-more conservative Congress.
The national Republican party has tried to exaggerate this effect by implementing draconian “Voter ID” laws to make it more difficult for registered voters to cast a ballot. They close down polling places in poor neighborhoods, limit early voting opportunities and fight tooth and nail against mail-in balloting. In short, they use their positions of power to block people from voting.
You mentioned District Only voting at the beginning of this, Riley, and that was really the reason I clicked on the link. Hold on, imaginary reader, I’m getting there.
Since 2013, Whatcom County conservatives realized they cannot win county-wide when turnout is high. I don’t believe this is actually true, but that is the message they took away from the thumping they received. As a result, they worked hard to elect a Tea Party flavored County Charter Review commission so they could institute district only voting.
As I illustrated in my early post about their efforts, District Only voting will not have a big impact on the ideological make-up of the council. Ken Mann will have a very competitive race in 2017, but again, it depends on turnout. The conservatives have already started thumping the drum, saying they aren’t represented, but if you can only persuade a narrow wedge of the population that your candidate is the best, perhaps you need to examine what your party is doing and saying that is driving away voters.
Already, the conservatives have begun to thump the drum, fearing a political future decided by scary things like . . . gasp . . . students! SAVEWhatcom, the coal-funded political action committee in town, posted this in the wake of Sidhu’s appointment, “No votes went to former County Councilperson Kathy Kershner even though Diatrict 2 (sic) is well known as the most conservative district in the county, and Ms. Kershner was the only conservative who applied to fulfill Coucilperson Crawfords term.”
Judy Kyllingmark commented on that same SAVEWhatcom post, “I hope the charter review members can change the charter so we in Whatcom Co can be represented by people from our own district NOT those voted in by Bellingham (WWU).” Because clearly, it wouldn’t be fair if those living in Bellingham who pay County taxes and were allowed to vote for the people who spend their tax dollars.
The irony here is that District 2 is pretty liberal when it turns out to vote. It elected Barack Obama over Mitt Romney in 2012. With the growing Latino population in Lynden and the growing trend for young families to move to the county, District 2 will continue to become more liberal.
While Conservatives can try to limit the number of people who vote, they will continue to miss out on the big picture: they are losing touch with the general populace. Already polls conducted by national Republicans show that young voters find conservative ideas in general and the Republican brand specifically to be toxic.
SAVEWhatcom and the local conservatives can whine and complain that they aren’t being represented, but to be represented, you have to convince a majority of people that your ideas are worth their vote. Trying to keep people from voting may work in the short term, but it is only delaying the inevitable. Please, consider trying to compete for people’s votes rather than deny them the right to vote.