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Kevin Woster

Kevin Woster

First, my apologies. I forgot to vote in the special election on water rates.

For that, I’d like to blame the snowstorm and the frigid temperatures. Oh, and the Hot Wheels, too.

And the Minecraft. I can't forget the Minecraft.

I’d blame the springer spaniel, too, but Rosie spent most of the day sleeping in the sun on the back deck. So she’s off the hook.

In my own weak defense, Feb. 20 was an inexplicable — given the cold-but-calm conditions and generally cleared streets by school time — snow day. So Jackson was home with me, and for part of the day so were a couple of other grandsons.

That meant there was an assortment of distractions, some of them quite lovable. And with all those Hot Wheels racing around and Minecraft games being played, well, a boy of any age — including 66 — can lose his focus.

Still, l should have remembered to vote. And I feel bad that I didn’t. I don’t feel lonesome, however. I was part of the 92-plus percent of registered voters who did not show up for the Feb. 20 election. That’s a lot of no-shows.

The 7.47-percent turnout of registered voters is the lowest for an election in Rapid City history, according to city council member Laura Armstrong, who crunched the numbers. Only a runoff ward election for a city council seat in 2011 came close, at 7.79 percent, she said.

So, with my apology I offer a suggestion: Let’s not consider the vote to be a mandate on whether water rates should be raised. In fact, let’s consider mandates in general, and perhaps skeptically, for a minute.

When friends who voted for Donald Trump say “America spoke” on Nov. 8, 2016, I agree, sort of. Part of America spoke, the part that voted. And that part consisted of 58.6 percent of registered voters, a monster turnout compared to the water-rate election.

And of those who did vote in 2016, 54 percent wanted somebody besides Donald Trump. He got 46 percent to Hillary Clinton’s 48 percent, with 6 percent to other candidates.

A Clinton mandate then? Not if you believe in the Electoral College, where Trump’s popularity and Clinton’s disfavor in key states added up to victory for Trump.

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So party hearty, if you’re a Trump fan. He won, but not by any mandate and not because “America spoke.” More than four out of ten Americans didn’t say a word, by not voting. And more than half of those who did vote “spoke" against Trump.

Rapid City really didn’t speak on Feb. 20, except with a mumbling voice of apathy and forgetfulness — and Hot Wheels affection, too, of course. I suppose you could also argue that the city spoke with a voice of resigned acceptance, as in: “Oh, yeah, another rate hike. Not thrilled, but whatever. I got other things to do.”

It’s commonly accepted that the most passionate and sometimes the most politically extreme citizens are the ones most likely to go vote. I’d guess a good share of the 1,800 or so people who voted “no” on the rate hikes were passionate. I’d guess a few, no offense, might even have been extreme.

And the 1,200 and some who voted for the increase? I suppose some were passionate. A few might have been extreme. But it’s hard to get extremely passionate about paying a higher rate, even if you’re willing and think the hike is needed.

It’s just something you tend to do, provided you can tear yourself away from the Hot Wheels long enough to get to the polls.

Next time. Really. I promise.

Kevin Woster has been a reporter in South Dakota for 40 years. He now writes a blog and does radio commentary for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He can be reached by emailing

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