There’s an election this Tuesday, if you weren’t aware. Your local media outlets have done their part to beat the drum and stir up interest, and certainly the candidates want you tuned in as well.
Yet it is admittedly hard to get folks jazzed up over an off-year election for city council and school board races and a tax referendum. When it’s not a high-profile race for president, senator or governor with televised debates and a string of broadcast ads, most folks tune out.
That’s a shame, as these local races have a direct effect on our lives and our community’s future. What happens in Washington and Atlanta is important, but local property and sales taxes, school expansion, local development and other such issues are right in front of us every day. We don’t need to turn on CNN to learn of their impact.
Even then, many voters are expected to sit this one out. Turnout may be miniscule here, even with contested council and school board races and an education sales tax extension on the ballot.
This is usually where we get preachy and urge you to do your civic duty, though that is for you to decide. If you don’t know the candidates or care about the races, it’s your choice to stay home.
So instead of laying a guilt trip on you, let’s instead take a look at why people don’t vote and see if we can persuade a few to make the effort.
• My vote doesn’t matter
This is the lament of those who feel an election with so many votes cast won’t be swayed by their one ballot, particularly in a national election. Still, that journey begins with the first step into a booth.
Don’t forget the disputed presidential race of 2000 when a few hundred votes in South Florida out of 100 million cast nationwide decided who would occupy the White House.
Such razor-thin margins are even more likely in local races. With Tuesday’s races involving elections at the smallest level of government, and with a low turnout likely, every vote is more crucial.
Remember last year’s Hall County school board race? It was decided in a runoff by 100 votes. In the primary, the leading candidate missed avoiding the runoff by a two-vote margin, and the second-place finisher earned a runoff spot by just seven votes over the next candidate. Households in one cul-de-sac could have swung that election the other way.
• Candidates are all the same.
This excuse is from those who claim it doesn’t matter who gets elected because nothing ever changes. That’s certainly true when the same people are re-elected over and over and offer few new ideas. But that only occurs when voters stop taking the time to weigh in and shake up the roster.
In this year’s two contested Gainesville City Council races, a half-dozen candidates are vying to replace retiring members Myrtle Figueras and Robert Hamrick, who represent more than six decades of experience. Regardless of who wins, new faces will bring fresh views to city government.
And no, they’re not all the same. Even when party ideology isn’t a factor, candidates span a wide spectrum of backgrounds, experience, temperaments and styles. There are as many different people running for office as there are people, all unique as the stars in the sky.
• Politicians don’t listen to us.
Sadly, this often is true, and the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy. They listen when they have to, certainly when residents share their views at a council or board meeting or a community forum. But when they really listen, and when our voices are most heeded, is when they seek our votes to gain or remain in office. Those ballots speak louder than words.
And conversely, when we allow local leaders to make every decision for us while we stay silent and at home on Election Day, that message is just as clear: We don’t care, so do whatever you want.
• Local races are boring.
Boring? Maybe. No, candidates for city council and school board aren’t going to yuk it up on the late-night talk shows or “Saturday Night Live.” They don’t fly on Air Force One with a cadre of Secret Service agents shadowing their every move, and no band strikes up “Hail to the Chief” when they enter a room.
But while not as entertaining, they do have an effect on our lives and communities. They control decisions made at your children’s schools. They decide where parks, libraries and businesses will be built in your neighborhoods. They help determine what roads will be built or repaired. Their choices ensure you have fire and police protection and other basic services.
And they do all this by spending your money. Local taxes go into budgets controlled by these men and women, who then prioritize what gets spent where. Are you OK with writing that check and having no say in how it is used? Or would you like to ensure it is spent properly and for your benefit?
We could come up with more reasons few people take time from their busy Tuesday to cast a ballot for little-known candidates in city elections. But for myriad reasons not to vote, here is one why you should: Because we can. The freedom of self-governance savored by generations of Americans begins with the singular act of choosing our leaders.
We get to do this every year or two, and that time is now. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by.
To send a letter to the editor, use this form or send to email@example.com. The Times editorial board includes Publisher Charlotte Atkins, General Manager Norman Baggs and Editor Keith Albertson.