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Holinger: Message delivered, but few bothered to vote

Published: Friday, April 15, 2011 5:30 a.m. CDT

Before the last election, I walked Geneva. Or part of it. Precinct 8, to be precise, the southwest side, where show places display rink-sized porches, pool-sized windows, and three-story edifices with parapet, portico and/or portcullis.

Not everyone owns a house the size of a school, but the variety of styles, from chateau to Victorian, turned a neighborhood jaunt into an architectural odyssey.

No, I wasn’t casing the neighborhood to find who had dogs or who hadn’t picked up their newspapers. I was trying to help three school board candidates get elected who would question present spending practices and vote for fiscal restraint where needed.

Even with such confidence, approaching the first door was daunting.

I rang the bell. A dog barked. No one came. I left fliers and moved on.

A freight train rumbled by Sunset Park. I rang the next bell. A dog barked as though caught in a bear trap. No one came.

At the third house, a dog barked, and just as I was thinking I’d do better leaving Kibbles and Bits samples, a woman appeared.

“Hi!” I practically screamed. “If you’re looking for someone to vote for on the Geneva school board, these three candidates would be excellent.”

She thanked me.

Gee, I was changing my hometown’s future! Surely, the woman would skip making dinner, speed read the fliers, and email encouragement to Geneva friends and relations to vote my recommendations.

Over the next few days, if homeowners asked me a question, it targeted how the board spent taxpayers’ money, as in, “Your candidates going to do something about taxes?”

My answer suggested that that was one of the main reasons I was out here.

People gave me the impression they would, at the very least, read the fliers and vote, even if not for my candidates. Fine. If all I did was nudge them to participate, encourage them to consider facts and insights beyond published reports, and to look beyond local newspaper endorsements, then what I was doing mattered.

Election Day. Oh, Warren Zevon, I feel your pain: “Poor, poor pitiful me!”

Only one person for whom I canvassed won. Sad – but not depressing.

What was depressing was voter turnout. About 13 percent, an historic low. Six out of seven Genevans thought it more important to watch TV, tend their gardens, or go on Facebook than drive the few blocks to their polling place. Or maybe they just slept through weeks of early voting, plus Election Day.

But here’s the really depressing part: fewer than 100 votes could have changed the outcome; we could have reformed the way the board conducted its business. Who voted to keep things running the old-fashioned way? Could be everyone presently benefiting very nicely from the way things are now.

That reminds me, property tax bills will be ringing your doorbell soon. Sorry if you think it intrudes on your budget, but if you neglected to vote, or you helped reinstate the Old Guard, don’t bark at me.

Rather, find a mirror and bare your fangs.

• Write to Rick Holinger at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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