March 2015 Column Winner

Bubbles, soap and a close election

James Beaty, McAlester News-Capital

The question I’ve pondered following the failure of McAlester Public School’s Proposition 1 bond issue is not about how or why the measure lost by a single vote.
Instead, I’m thinking of a different question: how many bubbles are in a bar of soap?
By now, word of the McAlester Public School’s loss of Proposition 1 by a single vote has spread far beyond the city’s neighborhoods and reverberated across the state.
Proponents of the proposition are no doubt gnashing their teeth at how close they came to winning, while those opposed are likely giving a thought or two to how they nearly lost.
Then there are those who contend the real losers in the election are students at McAlester Public Schools, who would have benefited by technology and security upgrades in the school system if the measure passed.
For those who need a reminder, following a Feb. 20 recount by the Pittsburg County Election Board, 748 votes were determined to have been cast in favor of Proposition 1, with 499 votes counted against it. While a majority of voters supported the measure, it fell a lone vote shy of the 60 percent super majority required to pass school bond issues in Oklahoma.
Still, the thought that comes to my mind as a result of the Feb. 10 election and subsequent recount is not the one vote by which the measure failed.
I keep going back to the question of how many bubbles are in a bar of soap — for a couple of reasons.
One is the abysmal voter turnout for the Feb. 10 election.
Only 1,247 voters cast ballots, although 9,925 voters were eligible to do so, according to the Pittsburg County Election Board.
That’s a voter turnout of only 12.60 percent.
To look at it another way, 87.40 percent of the voters who could have cast a ballot in the election did not do it — for whatever reasons.
Think about it. A whopping 87.40 percent opted not to exercise their right to vote!
The main reason I’m pondering the soap question dates back to a conversation I once had with the late Rev. Wade Watts, the renowned civil rights leader from McAlester whose name now graces the city’s Wade Watts Boulevard.
You see, Watts knew how precious the right to vote really is — especially when you are denied such a right.
He literally put his life on the line to join the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the historical and bloody civil rights marches around Selma, Alabama to protest the denial of voting rights in 1965.
Watts told me one of the reasons members of the black community were denied the right to register to vote in Selma was because they failed a literacy test purportedly administered to determine if they were qualified to become a voter.
One of the questions on the test was “How many bubbles in a bar of soap?”
Those administering the test obviously designed it so whatever answer was given would be the wrong one.
Watts felt so strongly about the black community in Selma being denied the right to vote he risked his life to drive to
Selma and join the marchers for civil — and voting —rights.
Others from McAlester planned to go to Selma as well, but changed their minds when they saw the violence directed at the marchers. I heard the late state Senator Gene Stipe tell how he originally planned to join Watts on the trip to Selma, but then decided that might not be such a good idea.
“I said ‘Wade, they’re killing people down there,’” Stipe said.
It didn’t deter Watts, however.
I’ll never forget the day at his home when he showed me the “protective crouch” nonviolent demonstrators were taught in order to protect themselves if attacked by police or anti civil rights hooligans.
With his knees touching the floor, Watts curled himself into a tight ball, with his interlaced fingers over the top of his head to protect his skull and his elbows pressed tight against his ribs to protect them from things such as kicks and swinging billy clubs.
That made the struggle for voting rights suddenly seem very, very real to me.
No doubt McAlester Public Schools will try to pass another school bond issue in the future. It may even contain components of the technology and security measures that barely failed last time.
Hopefully, when the next election is called, more of those who are eligible to cast a ballot will actually take the trouble to get out and vote.
Elections are set Tuesday for proposed changes to the McAlester City Charter as well as a couple of propositions related to school bond issues for Frink-Chambers Public Schools.
Those who decide to sit out the next elections might channel some of the time they didn’t use to cast a ballot by utilizing it another way.
They might ponder a certain question.
How many bubbles in a bar of soap?

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