EDITORIAL: Public must demand more accountability from local candidates
Lack of transparency runs wild in local races
The importance of local elections was emphasized in The Daily Targum’s last editorial, with several examples provided to show that the authority of municipalities demands voter accountability and enthusiasm.
Also emphasized was the relative lack of participation in these small-scale elections. For instance, Middlesex County, where New Brunswick is located, saw a whopping 3.96% voter turnout for the April 2018 school board elections.
It has already been established why this is a major concern, but the reasoning behind why voters refuse to participate in local politics is far more complex.
There are a myriad of causes for this voter apathy, one being the mainstream media’s lack of coverage over local elections. The fundamental force driving the creation and utilization of the media is the necessity of an authoritative source to disseminate information.
When such information is not adequately instilled within the public conscience, the residents simply do not vote.
It is almost arguable that the low turnout is a positive thing, considering how little voters know about their local candidates. After all, the non-voter is healthier for society than the blind, misinformed voter, who (accidentally) risks taking proactive steps toward tangible communal damage.
If a voter was duped into believing a corrupt candidate’s rhetoric, and subsequently vote for said candidate, they have actively harmed their town.
The solution to this lies not in keeping voters misinformed nor ignorant and hoping they continually refuse to vote (although certain politicians would clearly prefer that). The key to increase turnout is to sidestep the barriers of entry — ones that both local and national media have built — that prevent local politics from accumulating the coverage necessary to create an informed voter.
Luckily for everyone, it is not 1980 anymore. Dispersing information is not a responsibility reserved for those with press credentials nor television studios anymore, as the internet has given all those with convictions a chance to share them.
Unsurprisingly, many local politicians lack campaign websites. In the internet age, failing to display your views on the modern public forum is not an oversight, but an egregious act of both maliciousness and, perhaps, laziness.
Every local, state and federal politician must campaign with at least a feigned projection of transparency. In modern times, the internet has multiplied our ability to be transparent tenfold.
Politicians, particularly local ones (as they are generally the only ones with this issue), should be required by law to host a campaign website.
As appreciative as we all should be that our informative capabilities have expanded since 1980, we should be even more grateful that the price of computing and building websites has dropped dramatically.
Anyone with the affluence and status required to become a prominent member of their local political sphere likely has enough money to invest in a simple campaign site.
But for argument's sake, a rare alternative must be acknowledged and addressed: What if a politician cannot afford to host a website? Would such a law not be discriminating against the impoverished who want to run for office?
That is a valid point, one which can be addressed with one fact and two conclusions. Hosting services cost anywhere from $2 a month, to $100, according to Forbes. It is a wild disparity, but a truly crunched politician could likely host a viable site on the cheaper side of that figure.
These sites would not need any intensive programming nor features, so it is fair to say it would be cheap.
That being said, the low price of hosting websites opens the opportunity for the public to fund such forums with their tax dollars. After all, tax revenue’s intrinsic mission statement is to aid the public, and what better aid could the populace receive than information about their potential leaders?
The bill for hosting these websites would be a drop in the ocean of local government spending which is likely higher than you have been led to believe (yet more reasoning for voting in local elections).
New Brunswick is forecast to collect $3.4 billion in tax revenue during the fiscal year 2019. Needless to say, the city would not be breaking the bank by finding budgetary room for a few standard websites.
Local politicians all over love the lack of accountability and transparency they face. When most vote on party lines, why risk cannibalizing your own base through a poorly worded proposal? This is not merely an issue of information accessibility, but of shady politics as well.
This is important, particularly in a city like New Brunswick. Young people must be encouraged to actively participate in democracy, a necessary step in creating well-rounded citizens, and the internet is a great way to reach them.
On Nov. 6, if you are one of the few with the foresight and maturity to vote, make sure that you choose a candidate who supports transparency. Send a clear message at the ballots that concealment and politics do not go hand-in-hand.
The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.
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