City's ward representation difficult to read

Monday, September 10, 2001

P The number of candidates and voter turnout have both declined since the ward sytem began, but there doesn't seem to be an overwhelming interest in making any changes.

It has been seven years since Cape Girardeau began electing councilmen from individual wards, and there doesn't seem to be any clear majority agreement on whether the change has been for the good or bad.

Two facts are clear:

Since the first ward-system election in 1994, not as many people have run for council seats.

And voter turnout has dropped drastically since the days of at-large council representation.

The declining interest in elections is understandable considering few people even know which ward they live in.

Probably almost as many don't know who their councilman is.

The transition to ward representation, which required voter approval of a change in the city charter, came about because proponents thought it would give more balanced geographical representation to the council.

With at-large candidates, all councilmen theoretically could have come from the same part of town.

Some proponents believed that only those with money or a lot of clout were being elected to the council.

With ward representation, they reasoned, every area of the city would be represented, and lesser-known people would have a better chance at being elected and having a say in city government.

To that extent, the ward system has worked.

Declining voter interest suggests complacency that did not generally exist before, yet there have been no dramatic issues among council candidates to attract voters.

One reason might be because there are fewer candidates. Not a single primary election has been held since the first ward-system election in 1994.

Sikeston, Mo., is embarking upon a city charter that would feature a council made up of four members from wards, two at-large members, and, like Cape Girardeau, a mayor elected at large.

If Cape Girardeans were ever to decide to change their system, the concept of having at-large councilmembers as well as ward representatives might offer an alternative.

Time will tell whether Cape Girardeau is better off with its ward system and whether declining interest in elections and among candidates indicate complacency or a lack of interest in city government.

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