2019 ISSUE #10

Issue 10, 10/18/2019

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Articles in This Issue:

Local Elections Matter: Vote for Your Community Leaders

The following article was excerpted from The Hill and was written by Becky Kip, the founder and CEO of Hear My Voice, a mobile-first civic engagement platform.

Voting for the president is often the first thing that comes to mind when most of us think of taking political action. While it’s true that voting for the highest office is important, the changes that most affect our day-to-day lives are often closer to our backyards than to Washington. I’m talking about local elections.

While presidential campaigns get most of the media spotlight, the president doesn’t have as much of a direct impact on the lives of citizens as you might think. Our local elected officials are the ones who set local laws, policies and budgets that affect us the most, and these officials are being elected every year with little citizen involvement.

If you’ve spent most of your time focusing on national politics, you’re not alone. Voting for mayor, and your city council, could mean the difference between creating the change you want to see or keeping with the status quo.  

Your voice, represented

While voters may care about the issues, especially national ones, participation in local voting continues to drop. In 2011, less than 21% of cities' voting-age population cast ballots, compared to an average of 26.6% in 2001. While frustration with national voting reaches a peak, it’s local elections that give voters the greatest opportunity to have their voices heard. Increasing voting in local elections can be a game-changer. Increases in voter turn out at a local level can lead to laws that are more reflective of how citizens feel.

So make a plan and vote in your local Mayor, City Council, and School Board races on Tuesday, November 5, 2019.


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Local Governments Affect Your Daily Lives

Just 1 in 5 voters participate in local elections like the one Iowans are about to have on Tuesday, November 5.  Low rates of voting mean only a few of your neighbors get a say in who will represent them on some of the issues that have a direct influence on your life.  Voting in local elections means your vote at the local level can have an even bigger impact.

This is the first year that the school board elections, elctions for the people that make decisions about your local school district, and city elections are combined.  So what makes these local elections so important?  How do they actually affect our lives?

  • Mayors and city council members set budgets for your city, and school boards set budgets for your schools. They not only decide how to spend your property tax dollars, but they also decide how much you will pay in property taxes.
  • School boards make decisions about special education (including the number of teachers to hire), school librarians, school nurses, and many supportive services. They set the school year - when to start and when to end. 

  • City budgets fund libraries, parks, trails, police, fire service, public transit, and bike-share programs.  They decide whether potholes are fixed and where to put curb cuts and widen sidewalks.  They may have animal control units that pick up stray dogs and cats.  They may also take care of cemetaries or host city "clean up" days.

  • They make decisions on where to put new developments, approve affordable housing projects, and spend tax dollars to attract new businesses (and jobs) to your community.  They pass and enforce building codes.

  • They may make decisions about environmental protection, and some have tried to raise minimum wages. They may run your local water utility or decide what to do about trash collection and recycling.  They have emergency management personnel that help plan for and respond to floods, tornadoes, and other disasters.

  • Waterloo recently banned businesses from asking if job applicants are felons, the so-called "ban the box" initiative that some local leaders are considering (referencing a checkbox that felons must check).

  • Cities pass ordinances that can decide whether you can raise chickens, how high your fences can be, the fines you will pay if you don't shovel your sidewalks, how loud you can play your music at night, how many dogs or cats you can have (and whether pit bulls are allowed at all), whether you can rent your home on Airbnb, size of your garage, where you can put your garage sale signs, or whether RAGBRAI comes through your community.  

  • Finally, city councils and mayors also select people to serve on local boards and commissions, like the library board, parks and recreation board, and zoning board.  There are lots of boards and commissions, but not a lot of citizens step up to help out. These boards and commissions need to reflect the diversity of the community and include Iowans of all abilities.  Not only should you vote, but also volunteer your time to help make your city better!  Learn more about doing that at www.idaction.org or emailing us at info@idaction.org.

When you send your kids to school, or you walk around your community, you see your property tax dollars at work. Your city council has a lot of power over what your community looks like and how you are able to get around in it.  Many city council and school board races are won (and lost) by just a few votes; your votes matter!

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Voting 101: What You Need to Know to Vote on November 5

Iowans will vote for their local elected officials on Tuesday, November 5, 2019.  Polls are open 

  • Make sure you are registered to vote at your current address.  You can do this by calling your county auditor or checking your registration status here.
  • Learn more about voting with the Secretary of State's Voter Ready Toolkit.  Click here to get started. You can also read more about the rights of voters with disabilities here.

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