Low Turnout rubber stamp
Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Well, we just finished our off-off-year election, and once again the good people of Colorado confused the heck out of me. Or rather, I should say that about a third of Colorado voters really confused me. It appears that about 35% of eligible voters bothered to mail in their ballots this election cycle. I honestly don’t see how voting could be made much easier, unless we included a lottery ticket with the ballots and hired the Boy Scouts to collect ballots door to door. But still, roughly two thirds of Coloradans couldn’t be bothered to participate in the peaceful revolution the Founders passed down to us from 1787. 

In political science, which I used to teach at the Air Force Academy, there are a couple of theories as to why people don’t vote. One thought is that if people are relatively satisfied with things the way they are or feel their vote really won’t count, they don’t vote. Ask the GOPers in Kentucky if a few more votes in the governor’s race would have counted. Another idea says that some people just hate politics, government, and I’m guessing small puppies, and so they don’t want to give those “crooks” the satisfaction. Hint: if you think this, you should run for office and take over from the “crooks.”

But setting aside the non-voters (whom, I assume, will not complain one bit in the coming years), let’s try to find out what is going on with the voters. And by that, of course, I mean that I’ll muse a bit about the election and pontificate as to what the meaning is. I’m smug that way.

Where was I? (Ed: Colorado politics. As in the title of this website, sheesh.)

So, we had about a 35% turnout. Can we draw any conclusions about Colorado’s blue, red, or purple hues? Hard to say — the most we can say is that the third of voters who participated in the election are, well, confusing. Here in Colorado Springs — a deeply red part of the state — voters backed initiatives to improve parks and fix roads, and other infrastructure. The voters here cast ballots to allow the city to retain up to $7 million for parks and trails and renewed a tax hike to fix our streets. Kind of liberal, eh? But in the greater Pikes Peak region, three ballot proposals to fund schools were defeated, because, I guess, what’s education ever done for me?

But statewide Proposition CC went down to defeat, ensuring that we won’t waste tax dollars on frivolous things like education and transportation, and that we get our annual TABOR refund of about $7.50 per month for an average family. That means, as you can clearly see, that in exchange for refusing to fund better schools and highways, your family will be able to supersize one meal per month at your local fast food eatery, where all too many folks will be working, but that’s for another column.

Bless my soul, as my grandmother used to say, I just don’t get it. Having spent much of my adult life steeped in the traditions of the Founding Period of our nation (cough…hamiltonlives.com…cough), I just don’t get this “the government is my enemy” thinking. We’ve seen the national trends in this direction, with Grover Norquist’s famous claim that the goal was to reduce the size of government so small that it could be “drown in a bathtub.” Really? Really? That’s bad news for, say, the Marines.

In the Founding days of our nation, we embraced this largely extreme libertarian view — now firmly ensconced in the GOP — that government should do very few things. Jefferson thought the government should patrol the coasts and deliver the mail and little else. That seems a quixotic dream for lots of folks these days, but do we really want that, especially here in Colorado?

In those supposed halcyon days, things were great unless, say, your house caught on fire. Then, a local fire department company would arrive, look to see if you had their plaque on your home, indicating you had paid them for their private services. If not, they watched your house burn. And we have wildfires here. Just say’n ....

Back then, food was not inspected, and medications, including those for children, were not checked to make sure they were safe. Really want to go back to that? Oh, and I also like having the police come when there is a problem. 

I don’t understand the voters that said getting a Big Mac once a month was more important that fixing roads and bridges here in the Centennial State. I don’t know if we are purple, blue, or red, and I don’t know if more voter participation would change the outcomes. But I do know that the Founders agreed that our democracy — national, state, and local — only survives when an informed electorate participates. Think only bad people run for office? Well, don’t vote, and you’ll see how prescient you may be. Come on, Colorado, we can do better than 35%.

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

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