The idea — radical in 1776 — that the people of a nation ought, by right, to choose their own form of government and who should represent them in that body, has often been dubbed the “American Experiment.”
Of course, we didn’t invent democracy in this country — the word itself comes from ancient Greek: demos, meaning “common people” and kratos, meaning “strength.” But our own form of it — the constitutional republic — has arguably proven the most stable variety.
For 242 years, the American Experiment in government through the consent of the governed has withstood the test of time. But for our system to function at its best, the electorate needs to participate.
That’s why Kerrville’s voter turnout in Saturday’s municipal elections is so disappointing. Of the 15,407 registered voters in the city of Kerrville, only 3,021 people actually went to the polls to make their voices heard.
That works out to about 19.6 percent, a far cry from last year’s municipal races, which saw voter turnout reach 31.3 percent.
In fact, since 2015, the only times the Kerr County Elections Office has recorded non-primary turnouts higher than last year’s May race were November general elections in 2016 and 2018, which saw turnouts reach 68.6 and 56.4 percent, respectively.
That’s understandable to an extent — it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of statewide and national races; there’s a reason general election cycles garner more interest. But it’s often local races that have the most direct day-to-day impact on small-town America.
Kerrville’s city council regularly makes decisions about issues that will impact our community for years, or in cases such as the downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone or the expansion along Thompson Drive, for generations to come.
Unfortunately, Kerrville isn’t alone.
Participation in local elections has plummeted across the U.S., with studies showing average voter turnout in local races hovering around the 25 percent mark.
If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that in one respect at least, Kerrville is bucking the national downturn — while this year’s participation numbers dropped when compared with 2018, the overall trend is up. City elections garnered just 14.4 percent of registered voters in 2017, 18.2 percent in 2016 and a dismal 10.34 percent in 2015.
Make no mistake: Saturday’s nearly 20 percent figure is definitely an improvement over those earlier turnouts. Election workers, volunteers and regular voters deserve praise for their efforts to see more of Kerrville’s residents heading to the polls.
But our community’s participation in the local political process remains much too slight. Too many have sacrificed too much for so few to exercise their right to vote.
Kerrville can do better.