Editorial: Casting a ballot in city elections is worth the effort
Local races may lack flash, but have huge impacts on our communities

Off-year municipal elections are like the bass player in a rock group: Few pay close attention to them but they are important members of the band.

Because of low interest, only a handful of voters are likely to cast ballots in the upcoming city elections. Early voting begins Monday in towns with contested races, including Gainesville, Clermont, Oakwood, Buford, Braselton and Flowery Branch. Election Day is Nov. 7.

Election 2017

When: Early voting begins Monday; Election Day Nov. 7

More info: Find sample ballots and polling locations here

Voters turn out for big-ticket races like president and governor, yet not so much for local council and commission seats that don’t include pols spending lavishly on flashy TV ads. Last year, nearly 80 percent of Hall County voters turned out to pick a new president, senator, House member and state legislators. Next year’s statewide races for governor and other offices, plus congressional midterms, should draw great interest.

But just 20 percent of voters turned out for the 2014 midterms with few high-profile races on the ballot. Off-year elections for municipal seats draw even less; in 2015, only 9 percent of voters decided city council races. In 2013, Gainesville’s first race for an elected mayor position drew only 13 percent turnout.

This isn’t new or surprising. The culture of celebrity that surrounds American politics tends to gin up interest only when the big names are beating the drum. Yet while it’s important to vote for leader of the Free World, the folks who handle everyday matters closer to home have as much impact on our lives, and often more.

City and county leaders decide how much of your local tax dollars to take from you and how to spend them. They decide if a new business, nonprofit or subdivision can be built down the street. They pick which road repairs to make that affect your commute, how to allocate resources for police and fire services, and whether there’s enough left to pay for parks, libraries and other amenities. School board members settle education policies that determine how to best prepare your sons and daughters for a world that lies over the horizon.

People seeking these offices are seldom career politicians moving up the ladder from office to office. They aren’t famous for careers in entertainment, sports or business. They’re your neighbors, some retired, some small-business owners, all of them concerned for the welfare of their communities and how such decisions will impact the future. 

These candidates’ campaign war chests are measured in tens and hundreds of dollars, not millions. Their advertising consists of yard signs and newspaper ads, not slick prime-time TV spots. They aren’t endorsed by big name politicians or Hollywood celebrities, and you won’t see them yuk it up on late-night talk shows or featured in rap songs. They earn few rewards and little pay for their time in office. They simply want to get involved and serve their communities the best way they can. And those who take office will make decisions that have a long-term influence on what our towns look like and what priorities are most important.

With that in mind, we urge registered voters in towns with elections to take a few minutes and learn about the candidates and the issues, then swing by your precinct sites to cast a ballot. You won’t have to wait long in line, and there are no confusing amendments or referendums to slog through. By selecting local leaders wisely, you’ll have a stake in the decisions local governments make.

The alternative is that a small handful of individuals will make choices for the vast majority of residents. That’s not how our representative democracy is supposed to work. Those who choose to become involved can reclaim this concept and make it work better for us all.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a letter to the editor; you can use this form or send email to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.

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