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A note on low-turnout, single-issue ballot elections

In this April 7th post, I pointed out that school boards like to have tax increases in special elections, where there is not much else on the ballot, so that the beneficiaries of those tax dollars, mostly school employees, will show up to vote while those who are likely to oppose the tax may not have sufficient incentive to either know about the election or to go out of their way to vote.

This past weekend, the St. Charles school tax election was held.  Of course, we received special reminders using the school’s tax-paid email and phone system.  In that election, while the bond proposal passed by about 2500 votes, only about 13% of the registered voters bothered to vote, as you can see in the statistics from the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website.  In a general election, such as the November Presidential race, the tourout would be about 5 or 6 times that level.   

 In Lafourche Parish, we had a similar school bond and tax referenda on the ballot.  The school tax item, a 2 mill property tax increase, passed by just 201 votes with only 6.7% of the registered voters turning out.  Think about how many of those 1983 voters who voted for the tax were school employees voting to transfer funds from the house values of others to their workplace.  I bet Lafourche Parish School Board also used tax-paid communication systems to remind their employees to vote.

The problem is that the school boards get to place their tax increases on special ballots, when nothing much else is on the ballot, increasing the chance that their proposal passes.  

What is wrong with that, you may ask?  Imagine a school that gets to choose their homefield for games they play, so that it is easier to get their supporters into the stands and harder for the oppositions’ supporters to get there.  Choosing a time to your advantage is really just like choosing the place.

When the fact that an election is being held is hardly publicized and then held on days when people only have one low-interest item to vote for, the opposition hardly has a fair chance against an a public body that has a tax-payer funded advantage in getting out the vote.


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