- Announcing a new online voters' information website/candidates' forum for Hancock County. The goal? Reviving voters' feelings of empowerment - and excitement!
The first time I ever voted, I couldn’t wait to make those marks on the ballot. Voting signaled crossing the threshold into real adulthood. Yet the exhilaration was paired with a certain reverence. Tens of thousands of people had died, been beaten and devoted their lives to give me that opportunity. Did I sense their approving spirits hovering over the voting booth?
I was a 19-year-old college student and the year was 1976. The presidential candidates were Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Ford, a favorite lampoon target on Saturday Night Live, carried the taint of Nixon, while Carter, a fellow southerner, exuded honesty. His plain-spoken farmer’s wisdom packed an intellectual punch since he’d been a Rhodes Scholar and earned a degree from Yale Law School. For me, the choice was easy - although sadly, the comedy show probably influenced me more than Carter’s qualifications.
Sure, I could get all fired up about a big issue, like ending the war in Vietnam (and I wore a black arm band one day in 7th grade to prove it), but I’d never been to a city council meeting, never written a letter to a state legislator, never called the office of a mayor. My daddy did things like that all the time, but it seemed like fringy crack-pot behavior rather than good citizenship. I believed my dad was wasting his time. Other than fixing potholes, what power did local officials really have?
Turns out a lot. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I realized most of the decisions that impacted my life on a daily basis were made by local or state officials, not national ones.
And my vote could actually throw its weight around in local elections. In smaller communities, just a single vote can sometimes decide an election.
Remember the Waveland Aldermen's election last year? Charles Piazza was one vote shy of a majority and won his alderman’s seat by drawing the long straw. He may be the only elected official in history to have twice had his election determined by a game of chance. In 2002, after another tie vote, Piazza lost the election by the toss of a coin.
But even though we understand that our local votes have serious impact, only 28.9% of eligible Mississippians voted in the 2014 mid-term elections (Maine had the highest turnout in the country with 58%). Two-thirds of us stayed home.
Is there a way to change that? We're not sure, but Cleaver volunteers are going to try. In June, we'll be launching an online candidates’ forum and voter information site for Hancock County. The website is named “Serve Hancock,” because in the best of all worlds, serving citizens is the mission of good government.
You can preview the home page of Serve Hancock now - the rest of the site is slated for completion sometime in June.
The Cleaver is creating this one-stop-shop to make voting easy, interesting and, maybe even exciting again. While we won't be endorsing candidates, here's what the site will offer:
- Mobile-friendly, easy-to-understand information, clearly presented, including district maps, voting places, registration rules, etc.
- Job descriptions of offices and how they can impact your life and community.
- Bios and photos of candidates in major races. Candidates with smarts, skills, and energy shouldn't have to indebt themselves to big campaign contributors to achieve a good online presence.
- A forum where candidates for major offices can address certain issues, so voters don't have to rely on campaign signs or media blitzes to make their decisions.
- A site that’s social media-friendly, so it’s easily shared on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Will Serve Hancock change the way we pick our candidates? For some. Can it foster better government? We'll see. Will it become a valuable community tool? Hopefully. Someday.
But this year, if "Serve Hancock" helps even a few people recapture the excitement and sense of awe they experienced the first time they voted, we'll consider the effort worthwhile.
Please use the form below to send us any ideas/suggestions you have for Serve Hancock. We’d love to hear your thoughts - and hopefully encouragement!