[ How deep into local government has the crack extended? ]
There has been much discussion since last November’s Port Huron city council election of low voter turnout, and ward, vs. at large, representation. The Times Herald in its election review Nov. 6, 2009 quoted Steve Miller, one of the winners, speaking of the controversy, and admitting some north-south representation deficiencies, said “…hypothetically, you could have a ward system and it would work out just as it did.”
But the ward statistics in the article tell a different story. If the election had counted only votes in each ward, for candidates only from their local ward, Ken Harris who ran from the 6th Ward would have won by the third largest victory margin of any candidate city wide, trailing in mandate only Mr. Miller’s in 3rd Ward and Ms. Repp’s in 2nd. Instead, Mr. Harris and his neighborhood are left out. Fisher, Moeller, and Lewandowski would have made it in their wards, but Palmer and Byrne, who didn’t make it, would give Wards 9 and 5 a voice. Ruiz and Archibald, now on council, would have been beaten by Miller. In addition there would be seats at the table also for Wards 4 and 8, which had no candidates in the current system. There would be a number of new faces in city government. Of course this is hypothetical, with these votes having really come from across the city. I predict many more votes, in every ward, if there were a true ward election.
Why not have ten citizens on council, representing each and every area of our city? There would certainly be two qualified individuals per ward that would be interested in running, once the playing field is leveled. And the dismal August at large city council primary could be abandoned. In its last effort, it had a record lowest 8.5%total voter turnout, and accomplished a near meaningless reduction of candidates from 16 to 14.
It’s easy to say that the five southside wards, and the neighborhoods of wards 4 and 5, are just too apathetic to get out the vote. But you have to have time, money, and name recognition to run for office, especially pitted against the whole city. The apathy of an at large system is self-fulfilling. Income and resources do matter. The five southern wards had a less than 10% average voter turnout, and the five northern averaged greater than 20%. Is this more activism on the part of the north, or simply more clout? If all wards were given the real equal opportunity to elect council members, I’d bet that would light the fires of political interest and responsibility city wide. Voter turnout numbers would increase across the board, and the south’s voting percentages would come to equal the north’s.
The City Charter Commission has thus far given us the choice to retain the at large system, or have a hybrid ward system. Either way the deck is stacked against real local democracy. The hybrid system is just a modified at large system. It would have 3 at large seats, 3 ward seats [somehow fashioned out of the current 10] and a mayor as the 7th member. Four members would be city wide elected, and there would only be 3 wards for the other seats. These new hybrid wards would be 2 north, 1 south? Or vice versa? Seems either way we continue to polarize. Hybrids may work green advantage for cars, but they’ll never drive a grass roots democracy.
We need to place on the coming ballot the choice for a true, full participation ward system. Detroit was able to replace its terrible at large system in this way, and Port Huron can’t?
The common perception in this country, and in our city, is that the laws and policies are made for us, not by us. Here the Charter Commission has a golden opportunity to push for more inclusive neighborhood by neighborhood involvement in our local political process. Let’s move away from power broker political machines, and create innovative systems that welcome government by the people—all the people, as many as possible, from all walks of life, neighborhoods, and income levels. Port Huron can do much better.