The “Yes” Vote: Only 14% Of Registered Voters Needed In Kettering In Order For Antidemocratic Forces To Win

The verdict in Kettering is in about whether to renew the 6.9 mill school levy. The “Yes” vote got 76.7% and the “No” vote got 23.3%. This sounds impressive, like a strong community mandate. But, the fact is, only 18.3 % of Kettering’s registered voters voted, and, 76% of the 18% amounts to 14%. So, here is the news: because 14% of Kettering’s registered voters said “Yes,” an increase in the effective property tax rate will be imposed on 100% of Kettering property owners.

I am disappointed by the levy campaign for these reasons:

  • Misinformation — many Kettering voters would have been energized to vote “No” if the ads had not misled them into staying home. A whole set of voters would have shown up to the polls had they known that their tax would be raised even a penny.
  • Suppression of Advertisement— no notice about the levy on the web-site; literature mailed only to voters likely to be levy supporters, rather than to all voters; limited sign ads.
  • Zero In-depth Explanation — None of the levy advertisements even mention such important topics as “effective rate” or “reduction factor.” No explanation on the web.

I am proud to say that after much dithering, I did conduct my experiment in democracy that I write about here. I distributed door to door in the precinct where I live, Kettering 4-P, a two sided document I produced.  And, my effort showed results. Kettering 4-P voted 39.4% “No”, in second place behind Kettering 2-T that voted 40.7% “No.”

I did get several e-mails — all expressing appreciation.

One parent told me that his signature was on the Oakview Elementary School letter, along with the signatures of other parents supporting the levy, and that, if he had been better informed, he never would have signed the letter. (The Oakview letter this parent unwittingly signed, at the request of the principal or guidance counselor, contained the most uncompromising and most inaccurate phrase of all the levy literature. It said, “Remember, this issue won’t cost any of us one cent more in taxes.” )

I had a few voters, ardent school supporters evidently, show their displeasure at my effort by verging toward rudeness, saying some version of, “We all of us have to support our local schools.” My reply, “Yes, I agree, and this is why I’m doing this.”

I quoted, yesterday, from Dave Matthews’ book, “Reclaiming Public Education by Reclaiming Our Democracy.” If we believe, with Matthews, that “democracy is essential to education,” what do we do about it? This cost me $100 for materials, and time I could have been working in my garden. I’m glad I made the effort.

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15 Responses to The “Yes” Vote: Only 14% Of Registered Voters Needed In Kettering In Order For Antidemocratic Forces To Win

  1. Carl Beyer says:

    In Matthew’s gospel a question about paying taxes was put to Jesus. He admonished the questioners to “show me the money.” Then he asked “Whose likeness and inscription is on it?” When the questioners answered “Caesar’s,” Jesus told them “Render unto Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s.”

    When I looked at my money, I didn’t find my name on any of it. Instead it read “The United States of America.” Then I realized it’s not “my money” at all, as some people tell us. It is the governments’s money; they just let us use a little of it from time to time. We should just be thankful for what we have and not keep craving more.

    Putting personal interest above the common welfare is not only immoral, it is what created our current economic mess.

  2. Eric says:

    If we believe, with Matthews, that “democracy is essential to education,” what do we do about it?

    My guess is that Dr. Mathews would prefer you not invoke his work as grounds for voting down a levy. He might recommend Framing Issues for Public Deliberation: A. Curriculum Guide for Public Workshops. I’ve not found this on the web, but you can find a related publication (not from Kettering Foundation) on the web, Moving from Forums for the People to Forums by the People.

  3. Mike Bock says:

    Eric, I also referenced Dr. Matthews work in this article: “Kettering’s School Levy: To Improve Public Education We Must Vitalize Our Democracy”

    Eric, I simply disagree that Dr. Matthews would somehow not appreciate my quoting him in these two articles. My guess, on the contrary, is that Dr. Matthews is happy for the central idea in his book to be taken seriously and to be discussed within the web community. Of course, an author does not want his work to be misrepresented or misused, and I certainly did neither. But an author does want his ideas to be taken seriously and to be discussed, and that is what I am doing. I certainly did not in any way use Dr. Matthews’ work as a means of “voting down a levy.”

    The Kettering Foundation’s work, concerning the importance of authentic democracy to the health and vitality of public education, seems very appropriate to cite in this situation, where the local school district, in which the Foundation resides and which shares the same name with the Foundation, has used such a blatantly antidemocratic strategy in order to pass an important school levy.

    The Kettering Levy Committee, evidently, talked themselves into the notion that the desired end of passing a levy somehow justified the means of employing a blatantly antidemocratic strategy. A short term gain will result in a long term erosion of public support. When an antidemocratic strategy of misinformation and vote suppression is used to pass an important school levy, in the long run, the school district is harmed. Dr. Matthews is right — “democracy is essential to education.”

  4. Eric says:

    The Kettering schools board is charged with keeping school open with funding provided by an unconstitutional overreliance on property taxes. They did not ask for a new levy, nor a replacement levy. They asked for a levy renewal. Reappraisal surprises aside, renewal levies don’t increase taxes.

    If you want to have a real discussion, consider whether Ohio Democrats are undermining President Obama and Secretary Duncan’s education reforms.

  5. truddick says:


    “My effort showed results. Kettering 4-P voted 39.4% “No”, in second place behind Kettering 2-T that voted 40.7% “No.” (I want to find out more about Kettering 2-T.) My precinct is usually directly in line with the Kettering average, so, without any intervention on my part, the “No” vote for Kettering 4-P would have been expected to mirror the average — 23.3%. In total, 188 votes were cast in Kettering 4-P. It appears that, because of my efforts, 30 voters in Kettering 4-P, when they had complete information about this 6.9 mill renewal levy, switched their vote from ‘Yes’ to ‘No.’

    Validity: doubtful.

    You are dealing with a small, nonrepresentative sample, and you don’t claim to have done exit polling or followup interviews to determine if (a) any of these voters turned out solely due to your efforts (b) if you changed their votes.

    Anyway, your best efforts still did not defeat the levy even in your target area.

    So you have to pay taxes to get public services. Please quit whining.

  6. Mike Bock says:

    Dr. Ruddick, thanks for stopping by. This is an article about how a well known, highly regarded school district used a deliberate antidemocratic strategy of misinformation and vote suppression to unethically manipulate the system. For their long term good, schools need to use democracy to engender public support, so these antidemocratic actions for the purpose of short term gain, should disturb anyone interested in strengthening our public school system.

    This is not an article about someone whining about the necessity of paying taxes, nor is it an article of how someone tried single handedly to defeat a school levy.

    Kettering Precinct 4-P, where I live, as I said, generally mirrors the average vote in Kettering. The change in 4-P’s vote total, compared to the expected result, was statistically very significant. If I analyzed the whole set of data, I’m guessing that the 4-P, “No” vote is probably two or three standard deviations from the mean of the “No” vote of comparable precincts. The data is pretty convincing. I’m sure that exit polling and followup interviews that you suggest, would have given even more evidence to my claim that when voters had more complete information, a very statistically significant portion of those voters changed their vote from “Yes” to “No.”

    I passed out a two sided letter (see above) in my precinct in Kettering, out of 64 total precincts, starting two days before election day. This was a very minimal effort, compared to the total levy effort. I was not trying to change the result for the entire district. The point of my effort was not to defeat the levy, but to make an experiment in democracy. The point was not to protest an increase in property tax, but the point was to protest the antidemocratic measures used to pass this tax. The point was to prove to my own satisfaction that many voters who were prepared to vote “Yes” were misinformed and were being deliberately misled by school authorities determined to pass this important levy, and that these voters, if informed, would change their vote. I think I proved my point, statistically. I certainly proved the point anecdotally to my satisfaction via conversation with voters at the polling place.

    Eric, you write, “Reappraisal surprises aside, renewal levies don’t increase taxes.”

    I would like to hear the speech you might give to disgusted Kettering property owners who will soon discover that, regardless of zero change in their property valuation, their tax to pay for this renewal levy has increased. I don’t think voters, who were deceived into believing the literal words of levy advertisement and who feel betrayed by a system they thought they could trust, will be very positively impressed by the argument you suggest.

    Renewal levies don’t increase total tax revenue, but if a community’s tax base decreases, then the tax rate must increase; 99.9% of everyone believes that an increase in the tax rate is an increase in taxes. To argue otherwise is to engage in sophistry that I’m sure most deceived “Yes” voters would find infuriating.

    Some of the literature said, “Absolutely no increase in taxes.” What does “absolutely” mean? One official letter, addressed “Dear Kettering voter,” said, “It won’t cost you a penny more.” It is pretty clear that the “you” in this sentence is the individual voter, not the community as a whole. Another letter said, “This issue won’t cost any of us one cent more in taxes.” These officially endorsed letters and ads had the purpose to misinform, and, I believe, were so over the top that they could be determined, in a court hearing, as false advertisement.

    Thanks for giving the DDN reference. I would like to know more about the $5 billion in “Race to the Top” grants spoken of in that article — money that will be awarded to states most aggressively pursuing school reform. The reform that is needed, according to my understanding of Deming, is a transformation of the organizational structure. Such a transformation may require a ten year process to accomplish. I’m wondering if a local board, like Kettering’s, would consider embarking on a study project to prepare such a ten year plan.

  7. nightfly says:

    I have to hand it to you Mike, I would not be so magnanimous and courteous to all of your detractors. You made it perfectly clear this was about the principle of democracy, not trying to defeat a school levy. Your research shows how proponents of a levy or any other political referendum can use the system to skew favor for their cause, without reprisal.

    From blatant misrepresentation of the facts to carefully orchestrated media manipulation, it all seems like a big game for those participating. And when your detractors really can’t argue with your point logically, they resort to schoolyard bullying–“STOP WHINING”. I think it is fascinating how the system is twisted to help ‘seal the deal’ for these well-financed campaigns.

    Why let fate and troublemakers ruin your party? Feed the people who will help you with just enough information to motivate them, and stifle the ones who are out to defeat you by making the facts as elusive as a Sasquatch at a Little Feat concert. Democracy? Sorry, that’s dead…but can we interest you in Communism disguised as Capitalism?

  8. Eric says:

    so over the top that they could be determined, in a court hearing, as false advertisement.

    The legal standard is “reckless disregard for whether it was false or not.” The common practice of equating “renewal levy” with “no increase in taxes” is so ingrained that its repitition is not “reckless.”

    If you are convinced this practice is wrong, ask for an advisory opinion from the Ohio Elections Board.

  9. Bubba says:

    The reapprasial changes the effective millage, not renewing a levy. Reapprasial takes place if there is a levy on the ballot or not. You are intentionally mixing the two issues together to come to your incorrect conclusions. You are the one misleading people, not the school district. Renewing a levy does not raise one more dollar than the day it was passed. And that is a fact.

  10. Mike Bock says:

    Bubba, I’ve made an extended response to your comments as a post — here

  11. Skeptic says:

    It appears that this article questions the entire legitimacy of the democratic process. If only 18% or 14% of voters decided the election, that is simply because everyone else decided not to vote.

    No vote = no opinion = no right to complain

    For all we know, 100% participation may have ended in the same result.

  12. Mike Bock says:

    Skeptic, you write, “It appears that this article questions the entire legitimacy of the democratic process.”

    My point is that the democratic process can be subverted and that in this levy campaign the organizers of this levy campaign used a deliberate antidemocratic strategy designed to suppress the “No” vote. This strategy included Misinformation, Suppression of Advertisement, and Lack of In-depth Explanation and was enabled by a lazy and complicit press.

  13. Jeff says:

    Another point is that special interests who engage in bloc voting can sway a low-turnout election.

    Mike, you did yeoman work here, working your precinct. It was interesting that you didn’t sway [i]turnout[/i] that much, but clearly walking a precinct influences the results.

    I know this too, as I used to be a precinct worker for a precinct in Lousiville (South End, Kenwood neighborhood). I did exactly what you did, going door to door, and also engaging in electioneering outside the polling place (which was legal in KY, within a certain distance of the polling place).

    I did an experiment once and made a point of pushing bottom of the ticket races for judges and magistrates, just to see the outcome. My efforts proved that this kind of precinct work can pay off, resulting in more votes for the unknown candidates.

  14. Jeff says:

    Oh, and you can turn on the comments to the Daytonology blog feed if you want.

  15. Mike Bock says:

    Jeff, thanks for the comments.

    Because of my efforts, my precinct, Kettering 4-P, had a 39.4% “No” vote, compared to the average for the whole district of 23.3% “No” vote. I agree with you — I had thought that because of my efforts, the turn-out rate in my precinct would have been greater than the average, but it was about the same.

    These results make me wonder if my greeting voters 100 ft from the poles maybe had a bigger impact than my distributing the handout throughout the precinct. Next time I feel so motivated, I’m thinking I’ll try this experiment: I’ll distribute a handout in my precinct and I’ll also distribute the same handout in a similar adjacent precinct, and then I’ll greet voters at the polls in just one of the two precincts. I’m thinking that making the effort to talk with voters at the polls, combined with the handout at their doors, might have made the key difference in my precinct’s results. Distributing a handout door to door, these results seem to indicate, may not have been nearly so effective as distributing a handout and then also greeting voters at the polling place.

    And, thanks — I’ve changed the settings for the Daytonology feed to allow comments about your articles on this site. I’ll continue showing a link on your articles, so readers who are interested can easily go to the original article on the Daytonology web-site.

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