Educational

Because we want to learn you.

10

Feb 2016

Vote local and see the impact first hand

Posted by / in Educational, Topics /

I can’t help but wonder if people in swing states like Ohio know how good they have it. When they go to the polls their vote in the presidential election counts for so much. As a Democrat in Texas, my vote gets thrown out every four years by the Electoral College. The last Democrat Texans voted for was Jimmy Carter and that didn’t go so well. Also I wasn’t even born until late in his administration so I’ve never lived in Texas as anything but a red state.

But this issue is not specific to just my party of preference. Republicans in Michigan, I’m talking to you! When you hit the polls to vote for a Republican Presidential candidate, you watch your ballot get flushed down the Electoral Toilet every four years as well. The last Republican your state voted for was George H.W. Bush, and apparently your fellow citizens read his lips and didn’t like his new taxes.

I’m here to tell you there are much greater things at stake when voting than deciding on a president. Blue state or Red, your vote counts in many other elections than are listed on your ballot. With that in mind let’s take a look at why voting on a local level is so much more important than the presidency:

Direct Impact

impact photo

Photo by spettacolopuro

Voting on local candidates and issues has a much more direct effect on your life. County commissioners meet frequently to discuss how to spend your tax money. You would do well to figure out which candidate is interested in fixing that pothole in front of your neighborhood. City councils pass ordinances about things like those annoying traffic light cameras that fine you for running red lights at 2AM when no cars are on the road. No matter what issue or office is on the ballot, if it is local, it is going to impact you much more directly than the President, who’s policies may take years to find their way to your wallet.

 

Popular Votes

vote photo

Photo by allyaubry

The Presidency is the only election that is not decided by a popular vote. That means that even if that your vote for the presidency gets tossed aside, you have a whole slew of other candidates from Congress on down to your local school board.  These local elections are decided on a popular vote basis. Many people are so hyper focused on presidential candidates that they don’t know anything about the people they are voting for at the local level.  By educating yourself on local issues and candidate platforms, your vote makes a huge difference on issues that hit much closer to home than Washington politics. Local popular votes aren’t as likely to be so one-sided, so it is vital to make informed decisions as elections can come down to even one vote.

Accessibility

access photo

Photo by GotCredit

Try hitting up President Barack Obama by email and see how that works out for you. You get a nice form email that everyone else gets right before your email is deleted by an intern. Getting a personal response from the President is on par with winning the lottery except you don’t get any money. Having served as an intern for Congressman Kevin Brady, I can tell you that Congress is much more accessible than you think. Their offices employ case workers on issues you are having and can help you with a wide variety of things under the authority of your representative. As you move down the ladder to state legislatures, city councils, commissioners, courts, and school boards you probably have at least one of the above living in your own neighborhood. These are the people that make decisions directly affecting your lives and most of them love to take time talking with their constituents.

Party Lines

republican democrat photo

Photo by DonkeyHotey

So you may live in an area that really does vote staunchly for one party over the other. Party lines are much different at the local level. Over the years we have watched the Presidency and the United States Congress devolve into a bunch of cutthroats that care more about elephants and donkeys than gun control or foreign policy. Their sole mission has become to block or veto legislation by the other party with little regard for how it might affect us. Politicians on a local level actually work quite well together. For years I covered small town city councils and commissioners’ court meetings for newspapers. The party lines are extremely blurred and not nearly as divided as they are in Washington. I may identify as Democrat but those experience working with these people directly has led to my voting for many local Republicans.  In fact, many local governments have non-partisan elections.

My humble advice is to educate yourself on local politics if you haven’t already. Vote in non-presidential elections. Find out what your candidates think. Keep tabs on what’s being discussed through local media, reading through agendas, and, of course, here at Voterheads.com.  Anyone can attend city council and commissioners’ court. Meet the people in person and ask questions. If you don’t, then there should be no crying when that pothole pops your tire or you get another red light camera ticket.

 

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30

Jul 2015

Local Government 101: Other Town Government Forms

Posted by / in Educational /

Ask most people to identify the forms of local government and they will usually say mayor-council (strong-mayor) and council-manager.  Every once in a while someone will pipe up and mention commission, but usually they live in a small town that has that government structure. Actually, there are  three other  forms of local government that can be found in small towns: commission, town meeting, and representative town meeting.

Each of the three minor forms of government has distinct defining characteristics. Each of these structures speaks to towns with smaller populations. They could not function effectively in larger cities so it is easy to draw a line between these three and the two more common government types.

Commission Form of Government Defined

Image courtesy of ndstudies.org

Image courtesy of ndstudies.org

This is the oldest government structure in the United States. However, today it can be found in less than 1 percent of cities nationwide and those cities typically have populations that fall below 100,000. Fairview, Tennessee and Sunrise, Florida are two cities that use this form of government.

Under this government, individual commissioners are elected by voters. Those commissioners make up the governing board and one is designated as mayor or chairman. This official presides over the meetings. Each elected commissioner is assigned the responsibility of one section of the social infrastructure of the city, including public works, fiancé, police, health, and fire. It functions both on the executive and legislative levels.

Town Meeting Form of Government Defined

town-meeting-votesThis form of government, practiced by just 5 percent of United States municipalities. It is, however, considered to be democracy in its purest form. This is because it give a voice to all eligible voters on decisions regarding local policy. Marblehead, Massachusetts uses the town meeting form of government.

Voters elect officials who then carry out policies that the voters decide. It is a form of government where the voter truly participates in their government.

Representative Town Meeting Form of Government Defined

Image courtesy westport-news.com

Image courtesy westport-news.com

This is a rare form of U.S. government, less than 1 percent of cities use it. It is almost exclusively confined to small municipalities in New England including Lexington, Massachusetts and Bowdoin, Maine.

Voters choose a group of citizens who act as representatives at the town meeting. These representatives, or selectmen, are the only ones who are able to vote on issues and assume the responsibility of policy implementation. When a town meeting is planned, a warrant announces it and includes the date, time, and meeting location as well as an agenda of items that will be voted on and discussed.

06

Feb 2015

Local Government 101: Strong Mayor vs. Council Manager

Posted by / in Educational, Topics /

There are five forms of municipal government in the United States: mayor-council, council-manager, town meeting, commission, and representative town meeting. Interestingly, all five forms can be found in various cities although most people are only familiar with the two most common ones. The council-manager and mayor-council, or “strong mayor” are the forms of municipal government that most cities have adopted.

Contention over these two forms of local government have long been a hot topic and the controversy doesn’t seem to be cooling down any time soon. With that in mind, we thought we would offer some insight into each system so that regardless of which side of the fence you stand on, you are an educated, informed citizen.

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