Sunday, November 23, 2008

Conservation Bond Recount

The Johnson County conservation bond recount is in the books, and the vote shifts were miniscule. Yes lost five votes and No gained one, out of more than 73,000 cast, and the winning Yes margin dropped from 60.789% to 60.785%.

That's an LBJ or Reagan sized landslide by percentage, but by the rules of the game that required a 60% supermajority, it was close. What could Flip No have done differently? Two big mistakes, as I see it: they lost campaign time and they didn't recruit any supervisor candidates.

A supervisor campaign would have opened a second front in the fight, and frankly the traditional media pays more attention to candidate races than ballot issues. Sure, there was a last-minute letter to the editor encouraging a write-in vote in the Board race. But the bond was placed on the ballot on June 26, two months before the candidate filing deadline. Getting a candidate on the ballot doesn't take nearly as many signatures as the recount petition (250 for an independent, or the Republicans could have held a nominating convention, as opposed to 645 for the recount, a mark they doubled).

The bond issue was under discussion, and Yes was organized, as far back as February. And obviously, Flip No had the skills to organize, as seen by their quick turnaround on the recount petition. But the first public reference I find to the No campaign is October 13, only three weeks before the election. By that time, 14,876 voters had requested ballots. That's 20% of the final grand total. In a county where 55% of the total vote was absentee, a late start is a big problem. Even so, No almost won.

In a one person one vote democracy, strength of feeling is not directly reflected in election results. A "Hell, No!" counts the same as an "uhhh, parks sound kinda cool, I guess." The way intensity plays a role is in the organizing. The No side clearly had more intense support at end game, while Team Yes had trouble competing for volunteers and attention in an idea marketplace that was All Obama All The Time. Could another couple months of campaigning, reinforced by a candidate or slate pushing the issue, have turned the votes around? To be honest, I think so.

The recount adds another exclamation mark at the end of "Hell, No!!" to underscore the anti-tax message. Maybe that will resonate through some other Board decisions. Maybe that was the idea, as recount No leader Lori Cardella told the Gazette: "Hopefully this calls into question whether the Board of Supervisors had the best interest of their constituents at hand or their special interests." Fair enough. But it would have been easier to turn 500 or so votes around before they were cast rather than after.

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