By The Dallas Morning News
If you find yourself in Dallas today, look around.
Count yourself and the next 99 adults you see.
Now assume that roughly 94 of these people looked at their phones, scratched their heads and let the other six choose the mayor of the nation’s ninthlargest city.
Those numbers obviously fluctuate depending on the part of town, although they’re not particularly inspiring anywhere. In one City Council district in the May 2015 election, turnout was less than 5 percent.
In all, Dallas had the dubious distinction of producing the worst voter turnout among 50 U.S. cities in their most recent mayoral elections. “Who Votes for Mayor?” is a project of Portland State University, and perhaps it’s no coincidence that Portland, Ore., topped this survey with 60 percent turnout for its last mayoral election.
Forgive us our astonishment, but do residents of Portland really care 10 times more about their local governance?
We haven’t always been such civic laggards. As recently as a January 2002 special mayoral election, turnout exceeded 21 percent. Laura Miller won that race and again in May 2003, although turnout fell to 16 percent.
And those, for now, shall be known as the good ol’ days.
So disturbed are we by these cellar-dwelling stats that we will be researching more deeply what’s behind them. Look for more from The News on this topic this spring. In raw numbers: From 131,597 votes cast for mayor in 2002 to 42,075 in 2015. At this rate, we’ll be able to fit all the mayoral voters onto a single DART train.
Here’s another way to look at it: The more conspiratorial- minded among us worry that some unspecified elite is making decisions behind our backs in rooms once filled with smoke. But why bother? Instead, we just turn our heads and let 6 percent of our neighbors — or, really, people we probably don’t even know — choose our city’s top elected official.
Wait, you don’t care? It’s your right? That it is. And when you’re displeased with the state of your streets, your police, your trash pickup, your code enforcement or the hundreds of other city services, you also have the right to keep it to yourself. You had your chance.
Dallas’ next mayoral election is in May 2019, and incumbent Mike Rawlings can’t run because of term limits. In theory, that means a wide-open field. And barring sweeping change, it won’t take very many votes to be elected — about 30,000 should do it.
It shouldn’t be this way. Surely, we can do better.