“It’s not majority rule, it’s rule by the majority who chooses to make themselves heard,” said Dr. Ed Taylor, MWSU Political Science Professor.
Opposers of the bond initiative, largely southsiders who didn't want Benton High School reconfigured into a middle school, showed up in full swing to the polls. After submitting her ballot, one voter said, “Everybody on southend wants to keep our schools,” said Sandy Callaway, Southside voter.
Now, the nearly 70% of registered Buchanan County voters who did not cast their ballot have to live with what the minority desires.
“You have a very active group of voters. The 25-35% that we always see and if you don’t make them happy, you’re not going to get something passed. So, we’re really held hostage by a small group of people until everybody else decides that it’s important enough to get out and vote for these issues,” said Lute Atieh, SJSD Board of Education member.
The result was a landslide 'no' vote on the bond issue and three board incumbents losing their seats, an outcome that just a few hundred votes could have changed.
“Yeah, I’m a little taken aback by how low the voter turnout was,” said Atieh.
Awaiting the final precinct numbers to come in, SJSD Superintendent said he hoped more voters would've showed up for education,“People have a lot of things going on in their lives, but hopefully they would take a couple of minutes to come by and share their opinion on something as important as education," said Dr. Doug Van Zyl, "The fact that more didn’t, I don’t know exactly what that says.”
Area political scientists said the few speaking for the majority is problematic and stems from a deeper issue of a growing disregard for civic duty, voting.
“That should be really disturbing, right? Because we do now have minority rule in Buchanan County,” said Dr. Taylor,“I think a lot of it is that people are very frustrated with the government right now. They’re incredibly frustrated. It’s become highly polarized, highly politicized and incredibly negative so I think it turns a lot of people off.”
Board members said until more people show up to the polls and show up with education in mind, the SJSD will be stuck in reverse.
“We have a lot of work to do as a community to get all of us on the same page and realize that we have to invest in the school system,” said Atieh.
St. Joseph has a sporadic history with passing school bond issues. In 2017, there was a 38% voter turnout with a failing school levy by a landslide 72%. In 2019, a 26% voter turnout where voters passed a school levy 64% to 36%.