2016-11-18 / Opinion

Lack of Participation and Knowledge in Local Politics Harms Us All

Guest column

Here we are a little over a week following the 2016 election and nationally we still have two sides divided over the outcome and many can’t believe what has happened in front of their eyes.

You want to know what I can’t believe has happened in front of my eyes? It has happened right here in Topsham — it’s the lack of participation and knowledge in local politics.

This year in Topsham the top vote-getter for the Board of Selectman received 3,486 votes but there were 4,847 blank ballots in a 3-way Selectman race. At least this year there was actually a 3-way race for 2 seats on the board. Last year there was one candidate who ran for the board and that individual was sought out and asked to run out of fear there wouldn’t be any candidates. Thank goodness he was sought out; he was the only candidate on the ballot. Similarly, this year there was only 1 candidate in Topsham for an MSAD 75 School Board position. This doesn’t even speak to the numerous openings on committee memberships in town.

I challenge that the Board of Selectman and the MSAD 75 School Board has a greater impact on your everyday life than the most powerful position in the world, with the exception of members of the military. Yet again this year there were thousands of people in Topsham who didn’t seek enough knowledge to learn about the local candidates to even cast a vote. This to me is the true travesty of the 2016 election.

Take a moment to think about your day. Did you take a walk on a trail or sidewalk; need a service from Town Hall, Police Department or Fire/Rescue Department? Did you take your trash to the Solid Waste Facility, take your child to a sport offered by the Rec Department or visit the Head of Tide Park? Did you notice the Public Works Department keeping on top of public space, visit the Library or wonder when the new bike path will open? All of those are functions of the Board of Selectman along with the many groups who work to make Topsham a better place for you to create your future. I can go even further if none of those applied to you. Did your child, niece, nephew or grandchild get on a school bus today? Did that child attend a school with teachers who care about their education and development? Did that child bring a book home from school, play in or attend a school sporting event? Did you yourself attend or browse the offerings of Merrymeeting Adult Education? Now ask yourself what can you tie in your everyday life to the most powerful position in the world?

I imagine you could call Brunswick or Richmond’s Town Hall and learn blank ballots exist there. City Hall in Bath would probably have the same answers. The places you can make the biggest difference has the greatest needs and minimal amounts of voters take the time to learn about who is running for office to give you a better day.

During dinner on election night, when it looked as neither of the candidates my wife and I voted for was going to win, my wife explained to our two boys that “neither of us voted for President Obama in either election and our lives were just fine over the past 8 years, the president didn’t affect our daily lives. We still had our home, our jobs; they would still go to school and have their friends and things would continue on normally”. That normalcy is because there are people locally who step forward and work to assure we have an opportunity to create our own “quality of life”, the least you can do is learn who they are and base your vote on that knowledge.

I’m not asking everyone to throw their name out for election. I’m a believer in spending time becoming more involved prior to doing that, it lessens the learning curve when you are asked to make decisions for others. What I would like to see is people spend a little less time surfing through their social media timeline and do something that makes a difference, become an informed voter for the town of Topsham.

David M. Douglass Jr is the chairman of the Topsham Board of Selectmen.

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