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The 2012 Election in the United States saw candidates and issues being voted on in jurisdictions large and small. While some of those races are of immediate import and raise people's emotions, some are much more technical, and the impact of them might not be immediately clear.

On Election Day 2012, the voters in Clark County, Washington, a suburb of Portland, Oregon, voted on C-Tran Proposition 1. More accurately, the voters in C-Tran's service district voted on Proposition 1. Said service district includes almost all of Clark County. The Proposition would place a 0.1% sales tax on purchases within the service district to help fund light rail into Clark County, as well as to expand express bus service. The light rail would be part of the Columbia River Crossing, an ambitious plan to replace the aging Interstate 5 bridge with a new bridge that would include an extension of Tri-Met's MAX service.

The measure was defeated with 56% of voters opposing it, and 44% approving it.

Although there may be some anti-tax purists who objected to the financial burden of the measure, I imagine that the extent of the sales tax, one penny per ten dollars, was not the reason for the measure's defeat. This is especially the case since passing the measure would allow much more money to be received in federal grants than would be raised by the tax. And in terms of the total (estimated) cost of building the Columbia River Crossing, which is currently 3.5 billion dollars, the 5 million or so dollars this measure would raise would be a relatively small thing.

Living in Portland for over a decade of light rail expansion, across four lines, I have seen the objections come each time. Most of these objections are that light rail isn't needed in the suburbs, that it is too expensive and inefficient, and that it will increase crime. And every light rail line I have seen built has quickly become popular, well-used, and (with a few exceptions), not terribly reminiscent of the Mos Eisley space port.

Vancouver and Clark County have always had a checkered relationship with Portland and Oregon. While the area mostly serves as a bedroom community for workers in Portland, it often doesn't live being overshadowed by its neighbor. In more practical terms, the light rail line might not seem to be very efficient, since it would only run a mile or two, through downtown Vancouver and up to the Clark College campus. Since many of the people in the service district live in further-flung regions of the county, it might not seem like a wise use of resources.

I can't speculate on why the voters rejected the measure-- for some it could be ideology, for some a sense of community pride, and for others it just might not seem like a good use of money. The results of the defeat of Proposition 1 will probably be further complications and delays in working out a plan for the Columbia River Crossing, which is already complicated enough.

It also shows that while a number of big name and big issue things captivated America on election day, it is often the small, technical questions that make the biggest difference. Because while Clark County might be a suburban county, it is still the home of 430,000 people. And those people, and the half a million that might live there by the end of the decade, have just made a choice about what their future will be like.

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