Next Tuesday, November 8th is Election Day 2011. We have municipal offices on the ballot, the School Board, and a referendum to raise the sales and use tax by a quarter cent. Clearly, these are important decisions before us and our participation is important. But everyone just doesn’t participate.
In the 2009 municipal elections, we had just under a 17% turnout. That was nearly 12,000 voters out of some 70,000 potential voters. We also elected Town, Council Board of Alderman, and School Board candidates in that election and the last two years have shown that it does matter who makes decisions for all of us. I often wonder if those who are unhappy about a decision made by our elected officials voted, and if not, will they vote in the next election.
There are varieties of opinions about voting in our country. Some, for example, believe that we should make significant efforts to get people registered and out to vote. Others believe that we shouldn’t worry about all of the non-voters because only those who committed, informed and engaged in the process should vote anyway. It is interesting that as much as we proclaim what a great participatory democracy we are, we as a nation typically have a fairly low voting rate compared to other nations.
I think we should encourage people to become familiar with the issues, study the candidates, and make informed choices as voters. We have more than a few candidate forums. We receive mailers, we see letters to the editor in our papers, and we have several organizational endorsements. With a little effort, it is not that difficult to be an informed voter.  And there is still time to do this.
As of November 1st, almost 2,500 citizens have already voted early, and that’s encouraging. We have a few more days of early voting, including Saturday the 5th. When added to those who vote on Election Day, maybe we might have a higher turnout than we did in 2009. Some who elect not to participate may not think this election is a big deal but I certainly do.
This election will give us the people we will ask to make some really important decisions in our towns and for our schools. In Chapel Hill for example, the next Council will approve a new comprehensive plan. With the economic situation that we face, both town bodies will have to raise taxes to keep providing the current level of services or make some priority decisions that will reduce some services. We might also see them doing both things, but whatever happens, there will be citizen pushback. Every line in the budget has supporters who will fight to keep it there, but since something will have to give, whose line will change?
The same is true for the School Board. They will also have to face some resource realities while trying to maintain the schools citizens say they want. We need another elementary school and the County doesn’t seem to have the money. Without that new school, we might trigger the Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (SAPFO) and thus bring development projects to a halt. They will also face the challenge of deciding what their funding priorities will be and how to protect and enhance our reputation for educational excellence.
Yes, elections do matter and the more who contribute to the outcome, the better it will be for our community. Please get informed and vote!
That’s my opinion, what’s yours?