Many of us take the time to vote in the presidential elections but skip out on the important local elections that impact our families, neighbors and friends. Why do local elections have such an impact? What makes them so important, and how do they actually affect our day-to-day lives? Antonio Hernandez, our voting rights associate, explores why you should vote in Idaho’s upcoming municipal election on Nov. 5.
1. Local government regularly makes decisions that directly impact you.
Locally elected officials are more directly responsible for serving your community than any other level of government. They create local policies that affect almost every aspect of your daily life, such as:
- Public transportation
- Growth – what to develop and what to conserve
- Funding for your local public schools, parks, etc.
- Minimum wage laws
- Local sales tax
- Apartment rental costs and affordable housing
- Voter ID laws
. . . the list goes on and on, all the way down to restrictions on plastic bags. To sum it up: your local government has a lot of money and influence to decide what your community’s priorities are and how it will be run.
2. You can make a huge difference.
Many local elections are decided by very small margins. In 2018, the state senator from District 15 in Boise was decided by just 11 votes. In 2017, the percentage of registered voters voting on mayoral races in Canyon County averaged less than 20%. By participating and encouraging your friends, family and neighbors to get to the polls, your elected officials will have to be responsive to your community’s needs – your voice holds power!
3. Local governments lead when the federal government isn’t.
Local politics have a long history of shaping change in our country from the ground up. If nothing is moving forward at the federal level (or your federal representatives aren’t making progress in areas that you care about), it’s the responsibility of local governments to take action. In many cases, local laws can have a ripple effect and influence similar legislation across the nation.
Policies like the “Idaho stop, which allows cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign, first became law in Idaho in 1982. Now, states like Delaware, Colorado, Arkansas and Oregon have adopted the “Idaho stop” with many more states seeking to pass similar bills. By voting in local elections and holding your officials accountable, you can help create the change you want to see in our country.
4. You can bring forth issues to your community that you are passionate about.
“The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws, and enact the same at the polls independent of the legislature.” The Idaho state constitution gives every Idahoan the right to propose laws through the ballot initiative process. If local officials are not acting on an issue that is important to voters, they have the power to act through the citizen initiative process and put that issue up to a vote.
Ballot initiatives in Idaho that have become law include the creation of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, State Lottery Commission and – most recently – Medicaid expansion. In November 2018, voters passed a proposition to expand Medicaid coverage in Idaho to individuals with incomes up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level.
5. You can speak with the candidates directly about where they stand on the issues you care about.
Local elections are a rare opportunity to personally meet with candidates running for office and ask them their positions on the issues you care about. You can also attend various election events like candidate forums, town halls and debates in person that are usually free to attend. There are even tailored forums specific to a certain issue like our Conservation Boise Mayoral Candidate Forum we held in August.
Have you ever wanted to make a difference here in Idaho?
I believe many of us have. I see it when Idahoans take time out of their day to create and attend local events, give what they can to nonprofit organizations and speak up when they know something is wrong. This type of civic action creates stronger ties within our communities and, as this work continues, it’s apparent that no one person can do it alone. It must be shared. Much like the saying goes “It takes a village to raise a child,” it will take a village to safeguard our access to clean water, clean air and a decent quality of life.
Make sure you make your voice is heard on November 5. For more information on how to vote, please visit: https://cvidaho.org/ourvotecounts/.