In 2020, Jocelyn Cramer will become the first woman in the history of Wayne County to sit on the three-person board of commissioners. She won the seat over Wendell Kay, a fellow Democrat who has …
In 2020, Jocelyn Cramer will become the first woman in the history of Wayne County to sit on the three-person board of commissioners. She won the seat over Wendell Kay, a fellow Democrat who has served as commissioner for over a decade. After the initial count, the race was deemed too close to call, with only eight votes between them. The results were finalized the following Tuesday: Cramer received 3,737, Kay received 3,727.
This year, local history was decided by 10 votes. It took a fraction of a fraction of the eligible voters in Wayne County (10 out of 32,668 registered residents) to upset the status quo. It would’ve taken just a handful to keep things the same. How different would local government look if everybody participated?
The United States has some of the worst voter turnout compared to other “highly developed, democratic states,” according to Pew Research Center. Just over half of the voting-age population participated in the 2016 presidential election. As low as that is on a global scale, it’s still far more than you’ll likely see in any municipal election, like the one that just took place.
Municipal elections nationwide typically bring in around 25 percent of registered voters. Wayne County has historically been right around that figure, except this year, when a notable 38 percent of voters cast ballots—one of the rare times that 38 percent of anything seems like a lot.
Every year, U.S. citizens forgo what little political power they have by bowing out of the electoral process. Worse yet, the pervasive misperception that local politics are insignificant, completely stymies residents’ chances of choosing an efficient, representative government.
Back when the race was still in swing, the sitting commissioners—Kay, Joe Adams and Brian Smith—sat down for a lengthy interview with The River Reporter, during which they spoke about how they’re working to transform the role of county commissioners in Wayne.
“After you’ve been here a while, you start to understand that you can have influences above and beyond just our basic responsibilities of paying the bills on time,” Smith said.
Each commissioner has a vision for the future of Wayne County, and they use your taxes to make that vision a reality. This year alone, the commissioners have taken bold steps to spark changes that will have tangible, real-world impacts on the county’s citizens: a study for a potential dairy-processing plant, grant money for the Drug and Alcohol Commission, expanding the state prison in Waymart and investing in a clean-energy project at the county’s business incubator The Stourbridge Project. More recently, the commissioners are working to restore and preserve the indefinitely-closed Skinner’s Falls Bridge, and have agreed to invest in a project to bring high-speed internet to the county.
As a commissioner in 2020, you can expect Cramer to push for more energy-efficiency projects, as well as initiatives that address the opioid crisis, rural health and local food networks.
If you are a resident of Wayne County, you should pay attention to what changes the commissioners are pushing for. Maybe you’ll like them, maybe you won’t; but if you’re not paying attention and voting for the changes you want to see take shape, then it ultimately doesn’t matter how you feel.
At an even more micro-level, municipal elections include races for the councilmen, supervisors and officials that govern your neighborhoods.
In the Borough of Honesdale, seven councilors decide each year’s budget and residents’ tax bills. They also often have final or primary say in hotly-debated issues like the star-cross atop Irving Cliff and police coverage.
People are happy to make passionate posts on social media sites like Facebook about high taxes, Honesdale’s understaffed police force and poor road conditions (a newly-created Facebook group about Wayne County road conditions has already garnered thousands of members), but that political fervor seldom translates to much turnout at city hall, where people’s grievances and complaints could actually mean something and spark some change.
In the last couple of special budgetary meetings, officials were surprised to see that, despite the considerable “chatter” that had been stirred on Facebook, the actual meeting, where councilors decided what to do about taxes, police staffing and storm-water repair projects, was sparsely attended.
If elected officials have a duty to do right by the people they serve, then the voters surely have a similar duty to pick the best men and women to serve. A participatory, well-informed electorate is an essential cog in the complex machine of democratic society. Without that, the whole system grinds to a halt.