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How to Cure Voter Apathy

Trust in government is at a record low. How do we restore trust and get people excited about voting again?

Voter turn out in the last several elections has been horrifically low. In political circles people lament voter apathy and spin their wheels trying to think of new ways to engage voters and get them to the polls on election day. We cannot ignore the link between the lack of trust and voter apathy if we want to inspire people again. Over the years elected office holders have become more closed off from their constituents. This must stop.

If we want people to invest their time, energy, and votes in our electoral process again we have to restore their trust. Here's how I'm working to help engage people again:

Tip # 1 - Stop Hiding

Candidates and elected officials cannot and should not hide from their constituents. We are asking to or have been selected to serve in a public office. With that position comes the responsibility to engage with the people we serve. This means we have to answer inquiries - yes, even from our haters. I cringe whenever I see a candidate or elected official turn off commenting on their social media pages. Sure, sometimes commenters violate rules of decorum by engaging in hate speech, personal attacks, or threatening behavior. Those types of comments should never be overlooked or accepted. Social media without engagement, however, is just media. If our only goal is to distribute information then a website or blog is sufficient. It's not uncommon for emails from residents to elected officials to go unanswered. When they do get responses, many times the elected office holder is curt or even rude as if being bothered by an email from a resident is somehow an intrusion. That means every email gets a respectful response, every public comment is heard, and every phone call gets a return call. It's critical for us to respond to, and engage with the people we serve.

Tip # 2 - Listen

Once we've opened the door for communication the next critical step is to listen to what people are saying. Some of the most engaging and beneficial ideas of my administration have come directly from feedback we received from residents. Listening requires a conscious effort to decode what you're hearing. This isn't something we do as a passive activity. The more feedback opportunities we provide, the the better! Listening also means receiving negative feedback right along with the positive. A leader who refuses to acknowledge when they've made a mistake or admit that something needs to be changed will not inspire trust.

As of April 2024, only 22% of Americans say they trust the government to do what is right “just about always.” (Pew Research Center)

Tip # 3 - Follow Through

We make ourselves available, we listen to the feedback we receive, and we have to follow through on delivery. We won't be able to say "yes" to every request we receive for a variety of reasons. There's nothing wrong with saying "no," or "not right now," but we have to follow through with an explanation. Even better are the times when we get to create something from the messages we receive. I take great pride in having a collaborative community here in Charlestown. Some of the most rewarding moments have been making your ideas a reality.

What does all this look like in action?

Two years ago I received a letter from a resident who wanted to build a Lego park in the city. I brought the letter to our staff meeting and issued a challenge for how we could respond. Although building an entire park was out of our scope of possibility, the desire behind the letter could be met in other ways. Last year we partnered with the University of Louisville Speed School, Maker 13, and the Greater Clark Education Foundation to host the inaugural Brick Building Clinic as a part of our Founders Week activities. It was a joy to be able to offer the clinic again this year, too. The events have been a huge success. In addition to getting to spend time with their peers while out for summer break, the students who participate get to design and build the city of their dreams with Lego bricks. We sneak in some civic education by requiring them to elect leaders and work through a formal planning approval process. To date, over 200 kids have participated in the program. This program wasn't my idea - it evolved from a letter written by an 11-year-old boy. No resident goes unheard in my administration.

Every time we are able to create an opportunity from residents' feedback we show them that they are active participants in our government. Time and consistency will build trust. Trust will encourage engagement and overcome apathy.


To read more about how we brought the Lego Brick Building Clinic to life check out the media coverage:

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