Don’t let local elections go below the radar

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Ed Day

Ed Day

Ed Day is a grad­u­ate stu­dent in Metro State’s Mas­ter of Sci­ence in Tech­ni­cal Com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­gram. He is the coor­di­na­tor of Metro State Votes 2017.

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The list of issues that affect our day-to-day lives goes on and on: body cam­eras on police offi­cers; well-maintained roads; bike lanes; fair and afford­able hous­ing; prop­erty taxes; parks and libraries; garbage col­lec­tion; good schools; and the fight over the $15 min­i­mum wage.

Unfor­tu­nately, with the global impact of last year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion still being dis­cussed, local offi­cials tend to get short shrift — but they shouldn’t.

May­ors and city coun­cilmem­bers make deci­sions that have direct and almost imme­di­ate effect on local res­i­dents. In many cases, a major­ity vote is all it takes for a city to raise sales taxes, change a noise ordi­nance or rezone a neigh­bor­hood for devel­op­ment. Because many smaller cities have five mem­bers per coun­cil, deci­sions can be made by as few as three people.

His­tor­i­cally, voter turnout is lower for local elec­tions com­pared to pres­i­den­tial and con­gres­sional races. Could this year’s hotly con­tested bat­tles for mayor in both Min­neapo­lis and St. Paul change that dynamic?

When we con­nect the dots between the some­what abstract poli­cies and reg­u­la­tions cre­ated in Con­gress and the real­ity of imple­ment­ing those changes at street level, the impor­tance of city elec­tions becomes very clear.

In Min­neapo­lis, 13 City Coun­cil seats are being con­tested this year along with spots on the Park and Recre­ation Board. In St. Paul, three seats on the school board will be on the bal­lot. Check the Min­nesota Sec­re­tary of State web­site for elec­tions in other cities.

What can we as stu­dents do?

When col­lege stu­dents vote in droves, politi­cians will take notice. There are now as many Mil­len­ni­als as Baby Boomers — though the lat­ter has a much higher voter turnout.

Of course, Metro State stu­dents do not con­sti­tute an eas­ily iden­ti­fied vot­ing bloc. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make an impact. For every col­lege major, stu­dent group and area of advo­cacy, there is a way to make a dis­cern­able dif­fer­ence through local government.

Here are a few examples:

  • Envi­ron­ment. Local offi­cials can address broad issues such as cli­mate change by becom­ing lead­ers in clean energy. Some cities have invested in geot­her­mal and wind energy to power city-run facilities.
  • Hous­ing. If you are inter­ested in fair and afford­able hous­ing, iden­ti­fy­ing faulty prac­tices at the neigh­bor­hood level can help indi­vid­u­als imme­di­ately and bring aware­ness of the issue to other lev­els of government.
  • Col­lege readi­ness and tuition. While city gov­ern­ments do not have the power to reduce col­lege tuition, and school boards can­not change the state’s per-pupil fund­ing for­mula for pub­lic schools, they can be strong advo­cates for the stu­dents and fam­i­lies in their cities. Local offi­cials can also work together to cre­ate tutor­ing, men­tor­ing and school readi­ness programs.

For many big issues — home­less­ness, job (re)training, opi­oid abuse — cities are the test­ing grounds for inno­v­a­tive poli­cies. What do you care deeply about? Eco­nomic oppor­tu­ni­ties, health care or crim­i­nal jus­tice reform? Don’t doubt there is a way to address it at the city level.

And that is often the first step. No, actu­ally that’s the sec­ond step. The first step is to vote in the city­wide elec­tions on (or before) Nov. 7.