interesting article in today's New York Times
focuses on an
unusual feature of an unhealthy local government ethics environment.
This feature is payment for votes, something we think of in terms of
old city machines. In this case, it involved school board elections
in Donna, TX, a town of 16,000. The FBI, rather than local
prosecutors, made the arrests.
What struck me most in the article was the statement of Mary Helen
Flores, the founder of Citizens Against Voter Abuse, in Cameron
County (the next county east): “The voter apathy here stems from the
knowledge that votes are paid for.” Citizen participation is usually
hit badly by an unhealthy ethics environment. When votes are
actually paid for, those who aren't paid are unlikely to vote.
Voting and other citizen participation become meaningless.
meaningful, and the reason for this sort of criminal conduct in a
school board election, is jobs. The school system is the town's
largest employer, and jobs are hard to get. So patronage is what
matters. Whether voters are paid with cash, drugs, or promises of a
family member getting (or keeping) a job, it really doesn't matter.
A patronage-based government is one in which citizen participation
is only about jobs, and there is always the fear of losing one's job
if one doesn't play one's cards right. This is not a good situation on which to base a healthy democratic government.