How's that old joke go? Something about asking whether ignorance or apathy is the bigger problem, and the answer is, "I don't know and I don't care." Ha! That's always a knee-slapper — at least as far as political humor goes. But there apparently is nothing funny about the expected turnout for today's primary election in Clark County.
Yes, there is an election today. Ballots have been sent to voters in the cities of Vancouver, Battle Ground, Washougal and La Center, the Washougal School District, and the Clark County Fire & Rescue District. The problem is that not many of them have been sent back.
According to a story in Monday's edition of The Columbian, Elections Supervisor Cathie Garber was anticipating a turnout of between 17 and 18 percent of registered voters. And auditor Greg Kimsey predicted that turnout would reach no higher than 20 percent. Those numbers are distressing. In a nation built upon representative democracy, the opportunity to vote remains one of our most cherished rights.
You would never have such apathy in, say, Malta, where election turnout typically is above 90 percent. Or in many European countries, which boast of similar turnout. And then there is Zimbabwe, where about 55 percent of voters last week took part in the re-election of president Robert Mugabe — five years after the previous election was marred by intimidation and violence.
Of course, we jest in comparing elections in Zimbabwe to those in the United States. But we point to the vote in that African nation as an example of why we should be thankful for our electoral system. Sure, it's imperfect, but it remains the envy of much of the world.
Which brings us back to today's primary election. Traditionally, the year following a presidential election — such as this one — draws a low turnout for the primary. In 2009, the return in Clark County was 23 percent. Last year, a presidential-election year, Clark County's primary drew a turnout of 30 percent, ranking last among Washington's 39 counties.
In Monday's article in The Columbian, Kimsey postulated that the reason for the area's low turnout is that a large percentage of residents work in Oregon and feel disconnected from local politics — even though they pay taxes here. In addition, the Portland television stations offer little coverage of Clark County issues, adding to that disconnect.
But for those who are interested, The Columbian has provided endorsements for the Vancouver City Council positions on this year's ballot. We support:
• Galina Burley and Anne McEnerny-Ogle in the race for Position No. 3.
• Alishia Topper and Ty Stober in the race for Position No. 2.
• Incumbent Jack Burkman as the singularly qualified candidate in the race for Position No. 1.
For details on the reasoning behind those decisions, you can read our endorsement editorials at http://www.columbian.com/news/opinion/endorsements.
The Columbian will make single endorsements prior to the Nov. 5 general election, but for now we are more concerned with endorsing the need for citizens to make their voices heard.
Ballots will be counted if they are postmarked by today, or they can be dropped off at one of several locations, including: One block east of the Clark County Elections Office, 1408 Franklin St. in Vancouver; Battle Ground City Hall; La Center Community Center; Ridgefield Nazarene Church; and Washougal Community Center. To see the complete list, go to http://www.clarkvotes.org.
Apathy, after all, can be easily cured.