To say that there was light turnout on Tuesday for the state's Presidential Preference Primary would be a gross understatement. The fact is, just three percent of Newport's 17,000 eligible voters cast a ballot in what was seen by many quarters as a foregone conclusion.
Shortly after 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Mayor Stephen C. Waluk popped his head into the Canvassing Clerk's office inside City Hall.
At that point, just 105 people had voted during the morning rush. And judging by the sticker on his lapel, the mayor was one of them.
There's something to be said about exercising one's right to vote – even if it sneaks up on you on an obscure Tuesday in April.
According to the Democracy Index, a statistical-driven yardstick that measures the state of democracy around the world, out of 167 countries there are just 25 that are truly free and democratic. We happen to be fortunate enough to live in one of them.
Perhaps it was rightly assumed that Mitt Romney would win the state's Republican presidential primary; and without a contest on the Democrat side, there really wasn't much incentive for people to turn out to the polls.
However, let's not lull ourselves into complacency.
Our votes may not as coveted by presidential campaigns as those in so-called swing states. But our voices at home matter a great deal.
Next week, City Council members will formally begin their annual budget deliberations in front of what are typically dozens of empty chairs.
This year's total expenditures are proposed to exceed $115 million, and will touch everything from the condition of our roads, to the quality of education in our schools, and promises that were made to our public employees.
There is simply no more important document or issue that the council takes up than that of its general operating budget.
And yet, it can seem like a foregone conclusion.
Perhaps that's why, like Tuesday's primary, participation in the process is so sparse.
Beginning on Wednesday, May 2, the council will meet in a series of special budget sessions. The public is highly encouraged to attend.
In the interest of boosting attendance, if even only it's to observe our democracy in action, below you'll find the schedule of dates, and the topics at hand, as announced by the mayor's office earlier this month:
- WEDNESDAY, May 2nd 6:30 p.m. FY 2012/13 Municipal Budget – Overview, Library, Capital Improvement Program (CIP)
- THURSDAY, May 3rd 6:30 p.m., FY 2012/13 Municipal Budget – General Fund Budgets, Civic Support
- MONDAY, May 7th 6:30 p.m. FY 2012/13 Municipal Budget–Enterprise Fund Budgets
- THURSDAY, May 24th 7 p.m., Council Workshop with School Committee RE: FY 2012/13 Municipal Budget – School Department Budget
All of the sessions will take place in the Council Chamber on the second floor of City Hall. It's important to note this because there are 148 other countries where we could live that aren't nearly as democratic as ours, and millions of people who today can only hope of participating in their government.