By Jeff Kazmierski, Copy Editor
I don’t know whether to hug them or smack them.
I’m talking about the 11,000 Omahans who, according to a recent report in the Omaha World-Herald, signed the recall petitions but didn’t vote in the actual election on Jan. 25.
Really. We’re talking about an election that was decided by less than 2 percent of participating voters. Had those 11,000 people showed up on Jan. 25, we might be having a different conversation today. Omaha might even be choosing a new mayor in a few months.
I’m really not sure how I should feel about this.
On the one hand, I want to thank them for their laziness. Because of their lack of commitment to the cause, Omaha has been spared a divisive, expensive and self-destructive recall process. Mayor Suttle was handed a wake-up call and hinted that he’ll reach out to businesses instrumental in the recall petition drive.
By some estimates, the Jan. 25 election cost the city more than $250,000. A full recall election was estimated to cost more than $900,000. So, the lazy or uncommitted non-voters saved the city a ton of money and helped, in their passive-aggressive way, to stave off a legislative and electoral crisis for the city.
On the other hand, the part of me that believes in democracy and freedom thinks that if you’re going through the trouble of signing a petition, then you should at least have the decency to show up and vote when the time comes. Or, if you’re not planning on voting, don’t sign the petition. The flip side of this argument is that the 11,000 lazy, uncommitted citizens who signed the petition but didn’t vote enabled an unnecessary and divisive election in January and cost the city a quarter of a million dollars that it shouldn’t have had to spend. That’s irresponsible.
Democracy requires participation. I suppose, in their small way, the collection of people who signed but didn’t vote made their voices heard and participated in the process. And maybe they weren’t all lazy or passive-aggressive. Maybe they had a good reason for not participating in an election enabled by their signatures. Maybe some had to work that evening.Maybe they couldn’t make it to the polls for some other reason. Or maybe some had a sudden attack of conscience and realized the recall was a stupid and irresponsible idea.
The point is these people signed a petition to force a vote to recall the mayor. That vote cost the city money it shouldn’t have had to spend. Had they not signed, instead of signing and then walking away, the vote wouldn’t have happened and Omaha would’ve saved quite a lot of money.
To put it in perspective, a quarter of a million dollars could pay the salaries of six public school teachers for a year. It could put six firefighters or cops on the streets. It could repair a stretch of road in dire need – have you driven on Maple Street lately? Any of a dozen different, necessary things could’ve been done with that money, but instead it was wasted on a pointless and destructive endeavor.
If the 11,000 hadn’t planned on voting, the responsible thing would have been to not sign the petition. It’s easy to put your name on a piece of paper. Last fall, more than 28,000 people did, and Omaha paid for it. If those 11,000 hadn’t signed, the only money wasted would’ve been that spent by the recall committee.
And that would’ve been just fine.