Saturday, February 21, 2009

It’s a tie vote – you win!

Much discussion, deliberation, and unusual interest of late on the issue of tie votes by various governing bodies and boards. Largely, a tie vote is a non-issue, the system works, and generally the governed win in a tie. Certainly, tie votes by local boards are not comparable to issues of national significance such as those pending before the U.S. Supreme Court or other courts of law. Regardless, the local community is most often the best determinant if tie votes are negatively affecting the community.

So, my first thought is why is a State Senator who professes a governmental philosophy of local control and personal responsibility inciting the issue? Should tie votes rise to the level of negatively affecting a community, the voters will most assuredly rectify the situation. Our Declaration of Independence establishes that the people, “will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed.” It is the community of people, subject to the board casting tie votes, which should originate change, if change is necessary, not the lofty elected further removed from the citizenry in the governance food chain.

One “solution” proposed is to remove the vote from the presiding officer; thereby, reducing the likelihood of ties votes and eliminating personal responsibility and accountability for the non-voter. At the recent town meeting the newspapers quoted a former mayor proudly stating, “I had the job for 26 years, and I voted twice and got in trouble both times.” The mayor, chairman, or whatever title assigned to a governing body or board should hold that position as a leader, establishing vision and direction for the body, and he should lead by example, that example is his vote. The leader must also be accountable to those that chose him to lead and his voting record provides that accountability. I assure you, in the present form of government in my community where the mayor votes, that position has much, much less power and influence than our previous form of government when the mayor did not vote.

I served with the former mayor quoted in the newspapers and the media made much of our great battles and disagreements. Truthfully and factually, however, I voted 92% of the time in agreement with that mayor’s position. As I understand it, the current number of tie votes in my local community remains at nearly the same percentage – 8%. To the best of my ability to discern, the vast majority of those tie votes are on issues of little import to daily lives of citizens and businesses.

Yes, sometimes governance is ugly and divisive, but over time, it generally works. Our nation’s founding was an ugly time in our history. Were it not for the personal integrity of General Washington our nation today may be a monarchy rather than a democratic republic. My community endured one form of government for over a quarter of a century then deliberately, systematically, and cautiously made change. Our new form of government is youthful and while locally driven improvements continue, should be free from usurpations of the powerful.

What does it really mean when a governing body or board casts a tie vote? It means the issue was not compelling enough to gain a majority and therefore, you win. It does not mean the issue is dead. The advocate must simply go back to work, improve the proposal, and present it again – you win again.

Finally, if tie votes rise to the level of impeding the successful operation of an organization, without prodding, those governed will become well aware of the divide and will certainly rectify the situation at the ballot box as our forefathers intended.