Jordan Green wonders why so few are interested in Office

by Jordan Green

If you’re looking to exercise your right to vote, 2019 won’t be the year for you.

The upcoming year could have had a huge impact on our local forms of government: in Kay County, a total of 10 offices were to be on the ballot, including the Ponca City mayor’s seat, two seats on the Blackwell City Council, and seven seats on various school boards from all across the county.

A person looking to hold office – at least on the local level – could have easily walked his or her way onto the political stage.

But that’s precisely the problem: few people can do that.

Out of those 10 offices up for grabs this year, only two will be contested. You read that right: only two contested elections in Kay County. The two offices that were contested were the Ponca City mayor’s seat and the Ward 4 seat on the Ponca City Board of Education.

Low participation in elections isn’t just a local issue, it’s a growing problem nationwide.

So, the question is: Why?

There are two possible reasons why so few elections were contested. On one hand, people might not have run for office because they’re happy with the way things are. Since things seem to be going well, people don’t see the need to make any changes. It’s a common thing: just look at the number of congressmen who go on to serve for 20 years or more in Congress. If this is the case, everyone should be happy.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my time watching politics, it’s that such optimism is often just wishful thinking. To me, it stands to reason that so few elections were contested because people simply can’t afford to run for office.

There is often little concrete data on just how much it costs to run a campaign. What we do have, however, are some ballpark figures. Let’s talk about local elections.

According to a January 2018 article from “Campaign in a Box,” a website that helps prepare candidates to run for local offices, a candidate for a city council race can expect to pay a pretty penny to run a campaign.

The article reads, “What is the cost of winning a city council campaign? City council campaign costs vary based on the size of the city. But getting the basics for a small to medium sized city will cost $8,000 to $12,000.”

In a campaign, the biggest cost is advertising. In rural communities, newspapers are often the main form thereof. Though they might not cost you an arm and a leg to run a good ad, they don’t give them away for free. On average, a full-page advertisement in a newspaper can cost anywhere from $500 - $1,000.

For most people, that’s not just pocket change. Even if you were to say a campaign in Kay County would only cost $4,000, that’s a good chunk of change. And that’s per issue.

Now, I’ll admit that a campaign in Kay County probably costs less than it does elsewhere: Oklahoma has a relatively low cost of living compared to other states. However, because the cost of living here is lower than it is elsewhere, the average income is, too. In 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau calculated that the average household in Kay County had an annual income of $44,067. To take $4,000 of that for a political campaign? Not happening.

The high cost of a campaign precludes most people from running. So, if you’re determined to run for office but you can’t self-finance, you’ve got to take money from somewhere else. Let’s look at how that works on another level.

Congressional campaigns are paid for, in large part, by donations from special interest groups, wealthy organizations that help finance the campaigns of candidates who will support them. Super PACs and other wealthy donors are able to contribute money to and work with candidates who share their goals.

Does it seem troubling to you that only those with large sums of money can be elected to important political offices? At that point, it becomes very easy for the same few elite people to decide who gets elected – and what they do in office.

In our system of government, no matter the office, it’s up to we the people to run for office and decide who gets into office by voting. But if only the same people – or the same kind of people – can run for office, what then?

If voters aren’t presented with options at the ballot box, they’ll become discouraged from voting. In turn, voter turnouts will decrease. And if people don’t vote, things don’t change. That’s not good.

In my opinion, elections – and contested ones at that – are essential to the sustainability of our form of government. Elections must always be contested if for no other reason that to show those in power that we the people still have a say – that we the power are still in power.

It’s time our country took a hard look at the way we run our elections. Something must be done to make it more affordable for the average Joe to run for office. Any ideas?