If you were eligible to vote in the 2009 Chattanooga mayoral election, but didnt, why didnt you? Did you want to see Mayor Ron Littlefield win and assumed hed win easily? Did you want to see Rob Healy win, but assumed he had no shot of beating Littlefield? Did you simply not care either way?
Regardless of your rationale, you, like most residents of this city, decided there were more important things to do on election day than vote. Maybe you were too busy to vote. Maybe you dozed off after catching up on some episodes of 24 on your DVR. Maybe you were injured. Maybe you forgot that an election was going on. Maybe you stayed away from the polls in protest. Maybe you assumed — as many do — that your vote simply didnt matter. Sadly, this assumption was — and is always — false.
For those who wanted a change, you could have had one. Yes, perhaps Rob Healy had a lot of (at least perceived, anyway) baggage. Perhaps you viewed his decision to run as simply an effort to exact political revenge. The fact remains, however, that … well … you still could have voted for him. His name was on the ballot, and each of his votes counted the same as Mayor Littlefields.
For those who supported — but didnt vote for — Mayor Littlefield, your absence at the polls has made it easier for the Recall Ron folks to get the signatures they need to recall Ron. According to the city charter, organizers of the petition need to collect 9,387 valid signatures, which is equal to 50 percent of the total number of people who showed up to vote in the last mayoral election. In short, for every two people who voted, one person needs to sign the petition.
Regardless of whether or not recall efforts prove successful, this recall effort has (at the very least) shown what a team of dedicated citizens can do to have a voice in whos leading them and how they are being led. This movement has also prompted another much-needed look at some very troubling numbers.
Only 18,773 — or a mere 18.1 percent — of the citys 103,747 registered voters showed up at the polls during the election. That means that 84,974 — or 81.9 percent — didnt. In other words, more than four times as many people didnt vote than did vote, and more than eight times as many decided not to vote at all than to vote for Mayor Littlefield. In fact, the number of signatures needed for the Recall Ron petition is fewer than 1,000 shy of the total number of votes (10,234) he received.
These numbers give the Recall Ron folks a legitimate shot at getting all the signatures they need before the Aug. 30 deadline. The fact that Littlefield (and other petition targets, Manny Rico and Jack Benson) lawyered up this week indicates that they, too, acknowledge the possibility of recall.
The cynical side of me says that if Chattanoogans are going to remain this detached, then they deserve corruption. Vigorous and widespread engagement, participation, discussion, debate, and, yes, even occasional recalls, are signs of a healthy city. When these things fade, leaders can feel like they are somehow not accountable to the people. While their methodology and tactics have raised some eyebrows, those behind the recall petitions understand this fact and are trying to do something about it. While it would have been preferable to have seen change at the ballot box, perhaps this recall will encourage more people to vote next time around. Increased civic engagement is vital, even if we have to stumble a little to get there.