By Trina Baughn
Did you know that most of our local elections have historically been decided by less than 20 percent of our population? In fact, one of the biggest financial decisions ever made in our city’s history—the high school renovation project—was determined by only 11 percent (3,198) of our residents.
A number of factors have empowered the establishment for decades. If they have their way again this year, half of your elected officials will come from the most affluent neighborhoods in Oak Ridge, with half of them living on the very same street of McMansions! Given that the our average household income is $48,716, this is not even close to a true representation of the people in our community.
This year, though, the establishment is nervous and they should be for three very big reasons.
First, they see what has happened in neighboring Knox County. Both sides of the house there have seen a major shift that has returned the power to the people and significantly reduced cronyism. Not only do they have a mayor who challenges fraud, waste and abuse at every turn, but they now also have a Board of Education chair who, just a year ago, was the odd man out in voting for the best interests of the parents, students, and teachers. These are exciting times for Knox County, and they are certainly inspiring for Oak Ridgers who want their voices reflected in their votes!
Second, they know that the public is more informed about the issues than ever before. Social media has had an amazing impact on our collective consciousness, and it has inspired people to actively engage in government decisions. The power of the people was undeniably influential in major issues like school transportation and Clark Center Park. During these public discussions, the people rejected excuses and demanded that the will of the people prevail…and it did…big time!
Finally, the establishment is worried because they must persuade a much larger audience to vote in their favor. When elections were moved from June to November in 2012, the increased voter turnout meant that the total votes to win rose sharply from around 2,000 to 7,000.
When you consider all of these variables along with the fact that the majority of both the City Council and the Board of Education seats are up for grabs, it is clear that Oak Ridgers have an unprecedented opportunity to influence their destiny. For the first time in many years, the people have a chance to determine their city’s future instead of the establishment.
It is also clear by the sheer volume of candidates that Oak Ridgers are ready for a new direction. Unfortunately, a large number of candidates dilutes the vote, which, in turn, favors establishment candidates. This is because voters, though not required, feel an obligation to use all of their votes since the ballot states “pick three” or “pick four.” After selecting their favorite candidate, many voters will use their remaining votes on candidates based more on popularity than substance.
There is an election hack, though, that has historically been used to help lesser-known candidates beat those odds. Establishment candidates would rather you not understand what is commonly referred to as the Single Shot Strategy. The mathematics are not universally applicable nor are they simple; but the gist of it is that by only voting for your preferred candidate (and conversely “wasting” your other votes) you essentially triple or quadruple your vote for your favorite candidate.
Now the establishment will decry that if you single-shot vote, you are not fulfilling your voting right or obligation. But because their candidates use this strategy to their advantage and because we’ve seen elections won by less than 50 votes in Oak Ridge, it is critical that everyone understand this concept. By getting their core supporters to single shot, establishment candidates have diminished the average voter’s strength by turning their 200 votes into 800. As John Meyer of Star-News put it, “The lower the number of votes per voter, the stronger the single-shot effect.” Any vote that is for someone other than your favorite candidate is a vote against them.
November 4 will be the third and final election of the year. It is also the most critical election for Oak Ridgers because the results will directly affect your family and your finances. Learn everything you can about your preferred candidates and make your vote truly count so that we can be an example of what true representation—of the people, by the people, and for the people—looks like. Early voting runs from October 15-30, and Election Day is November 4. Vote early, encourage your neighbors to vote, and vote wisely. See you at the polls!
Baughn is an Oak Ridge City Council member.