Democracy Minus Voters
By Philippe Gastonne - September 10, 2015

They say that every vote counts, but it's not usually this literal: A vote on a local sales-tax increase in Columbia, Missouri will be decided this month by Jen Henderson, a 23-year-old college student.

Henderson is the only person eligible to vote on the increase because she is the only legal resident of the Business Loop 70 Community Improvement District (CID), the Columbia Tribune reports. That's where the City Council is trying to push through a sales tax increase at the behest of the district's business owners. Under state law, the increase must be approved by residents of the district, which mostly contains private businesses and buildings from the University of Missouri.

The CID's organizers tried to carefully gerrymander its borders so that it wouldn't include any actual voters, but somehow failed to account for Henderson. The vote was originally scheduled for August, but the electoral twist may push that date back.

Henderson is leaning against voting for the tax increase, the Tribune reported, after the CID's director approached her to consider unregistering her vote, which she said was "pretty manipulative." She also has concerns that the sales tax increase will hurt low-income people who buy groceries and other staples in the area. – Quartz, Aug. 30, 2015

The phrase "to carefully gerrymander" is more than just a split infinitive. It is apparently a legally permissible activity in Missouri. The Business Loop 70 Community Improvement District tried its best to make sure no annoying voters could stop its new taxes, but its best-laid plans appear to have failed.

Opinion surveys – which in this case can sample 100% of eligible voters – indicate the district's voter will veto a new sales tax that would fund the district's infrastructure improvement plan. However it turns out, the episode illustrates a point we touched on last month.

In Local Government Larceny, I wrote, "local governments all over the U.S. are not nearly as accountable as they want us all to believe." I was talking about towns that at least go through the charade of holding elections. The Business Loop 70 CID dispensed even with the charade. Give them points for honesty, I suppose, but the behavior is still larcenous.

It may well be true that the neighborhood has crumbling roads or faulty sewers that are harming businesses. If that is the case, nothing prevents the businesses from splitting repair costs among themselves and hiring a contractor to do the work. Each business could decide for itself whether to pass on the cost to customers through higher prices.

That's not what happened. The businesses decided to enlist state power to pass along all the costs to the customers of every business in the area. Now, with their subterfuge exposed, they are despondent to learn a voter slipped through the dragnet.

Even faux democracy occasionally works as intended. If only we could get rid of Congress as easily as young Jen Henderson will stop this sales tax.

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