There’s No Such Thing as an “Off-Year Election”

vote early stickerAlthough we do acknowledge that the municipal elections held in odd-numbered years come awfully close in many people’s minds. Despite the fact that these elections determine who will run our cities and towns – and in some municipalities, who will run the local boards of education – turnout is typically very, very low.  In 2013, the Raleigh municipality race had a turnout of just 15%, while the Durham city race saw turnout at just above 10%.  (We’re not picking on those cities; the above links show voter turnout rarely gets above 25% in these elections).

And these unimpressive numbers are for mayors and city councilor races – elected officials who have the ability to make a big impact in residents daily lives, more than many people may realize.  These officials are responsible for things like: city police & fire departments; public transportation; public libraries; parks and recreation centers; zoning; affordable housing; ordinances; neighborhood renewal; street maintenance; water, sewer and waste services; public parking; economic development; and  the city budget and property and sales taxes. Whether you pay attention to their debates and decisions or not (and we encourage you to do so), the policies these bodies and elected officials implement likely have an impact on the city/town residents (you) at some point.

Many times representing smaller constituencies and geographic areas than state and federal elected officials, city and town elected officials can also be more accessible. While they may hold other positions beyond their elected office (i.e. a “day job”), many of them can easily be found out and about in their communities, and there are usually regular opportunities to attend city and town council public meetings. Neighbors can come together to petition their city council on zoning or road maintenance issues, and local residents with innovative ideas can more easily pitch these ideas directly to city and town officials. The role of city and town elected officials, like that of all elected officials, is to represent the interests of their constituents.  And one big way to get their attention is to vote on the issues that are important to you.

While the city of Raleigh and a few other towns have municipal elections this Tuesday, October 06 (note: we’re not sure why any place has October elections when it’s a still struggle to get people used to voting in an election every November, but we assume there is some historical and/or practical reason…maybe. We suppose that reason could be “to decrease the amount of voter turnout”, but we will give everyone involved the benefit of the doubt that it’s not). While early voting has ended for these October elections, the one advantage to low voter turnout is you will likely not have to wait in line too long to vote on election day. Make sure you are registered, and that you vote in your precinct; you can find that information under the “For Voters” section of the NC State Board of Elections website. You can also find a voting calendar, and information on current voting rules on this site. Remember – until further notice, same-day registration during early voting and “out of precinct” voting are still allowed until a federal judge says otherwise, unlike in the 2014 elections (fingers crossed, it will not be said otherwise).

For more information on candidates, early voting sites, and the election process, member Democracy NC  and their partner Common Cause NC have put together very thorough and helpful voting guides for the bigger municipal elections happening this year. These are non-partisan guides, and not endorsements. These guides are fantastic – please use them and share them!  Also be sure to check which other local organizations are holding candidate forums and preparing their own non-partisan voting guides (such as this one for Buncombe County). Member The League of Women Voters of North Carolina is organizing many forums, as well as updating an elections calendar that includes some of these forums. Elections are a function of the government, and while we do believe that it is the government’s responsibility to make sure voters are engaged and informed about the electoral process, we are so grateful to these non-partisan, non-profit organizations who are also doing as much as they can to create an educated and engaged electorate.

In summary – Tuesday, October 06 is a municipal election for some cities and a primary election for others.  Thursday, October 22 is the start of early voting for the Tuesday, November 03 general elections that take place across most of the state. Make your plan to vote, and take two, five, or ten of your friends with you. It’s your vote, your voice, your election.

(This voting PSA about women and voting was made specifically for last year’s election, but the spirit still applies.) See you at the polls!

Tara Romano, President, NC Women United