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Herman: Voters, though relatively few, spoke on courthouse plan


Some of us here at the newspaper recently enjoyed a four-hour diversity training session led by Dr. Joy, our friendly facilitator.

Joy is her full name and she holds a Ph.D. so she is Dr. Joy. Who can dislike a person who renames herself for such a wonderful emotion? The session was interesting, keying heavily on generational diversity. I’m a baby boomer, defined as people who grew up at a time when nobody made a living as a facilitator.

Anyway, Dr. Joy rankled me (maybe I should rename myself Mr. Rankled) by announcing the scheduled 8:30 a.m. session would be delayed to allow for stragglers. I asked her why the punctual were being punished for the sake of the nonpunctual.

Seeing the impenetrable sense of justice inherent in my point, Dr. Joy started on time. Yes, I revel in small victories, especially those in defense of those who have done the right thing, like show up on time. Or vote.

I tell you all this because I had a Dr. Joy flashback Wednesday when I read that Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt was peeved that county voters, by a small margin in a small turnout, had turned down the proposed $287 million in bonds for a new civil courthouse in downtown Austin.

When the results were in, Eckhardt told fellow bond supporters to get a massage, hang out with their kids or do some meditation in coming days, because “we are back in the saddle 48 hours from now because we need” a new civil courthouse.

“This is not only a constitutional mandate, but it is a duty under our democracy to provide justice to our entire community in a building that is fit for that calling,” Eckhardt said. “We have not delivered on that promise. Our courthouse is overstuffed and inadequate to the needs of our growing community, and it is a visual slap in the face to the notion of accessible justice. So we are not off the hook.”

Yes, yes and yes. I voted for the bonds, though not fully convinced the proposed downtown location was the best idea.

But no, no, no to Eckhardt’s next declaration. “The low voter turnout in this election was not a rejection of the project and it was not a rejection of the location,” she said. “It was a lack of interest in our democracy, and that’s the real tragedy.”

Yes, it was a rejection, a rejection by the only people who matter on an election day — those who vote. To dismiss their decision is tantamount to delaying the start of an event to wait for stragglers. Downplaying the decision of voters, even in a low turnout, is downright disrespectful. And losers don’t get to assume victory if nonvoters had voted.

Nonvoters don’t count.

Looks like 11.6 percent of Travis County registered voters turned out Tuesday for the candidate-free ballot that also included seven proposed state constitutional amendments. That’s not good, but not atypical for this kind of election. And I always figure every election, barring extenuating circumstances, has the right turnout: 100 percent of the people who wanted to vote.

The results count regardless of turnout. For example, in heavily Democratic Travis County, Eckhardt effectively won the county judgeship by winning the March 2014 Democratic primary. Total turnout that day was 13.31 percent — 7.73 percent for Dems and 5.58 percent for Repubs.

Was that, as Eckhardt deemed Tuesday’s election, a “lack of interest in our democracy” to the point that the result should have been dismissed? Did anybody call for folks to get back in the saddle to try it again?

We need a new courthouse. The one we have now isn’t old enough to be quaint nor new enough to be useful. And it certainly isn’t big enough. And kudos to Eckhardt and others for planning to go right back to work on getting us a new one.

But Plan B should not be one that dismisses the will of the voters, few though they may have been, who rejected Plan A.

And we can hope for a better turnout next time, just like we can hope that everybody starts showing up on time for stuff.


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