Friday, October 19, 2012

Voters in November Need to Come Out in April Too

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Friday, October 19, 2012

by Bill Gouveia

In about three weeks, voters in our area and across the country will flock to the polls primarily to elect the next President of the United States. In the process they will decide important congressional races, choose their senators and governors, and elect their state legislators.

All indications are voters here are taking their responsibility very seriously. Town clerks throughout the area have been swamped with citizens registering to cast ballots. They are even doing so early, taking out absentee ballots and making sure they have a say in choosing their leaders. They want to make sure their vote matters.

And that is a good thing. What our leaders do and how they vote affects our lives and our futures. Those leaders need to know voters out there are willing to exercise their sacred right and participate in the electoral process.

But while as many as half of those registered may cast ballots on November 6th, they tend to take a break come spring. When our area communities hold their local elections to choose selectmen, school committee members, and other officials who directly affect their lives on a daily basis via their decisions and policies – many of these same dedicated and determined voters are nowhere to be found.

Local election turnout in most area communities has hovered between 8-15 percent in recent years. Unless there is a Proposition 2-1/2 override to be decided, this has become the norm. The huge exception was Foxboro, when the possibility of a casino pulled in voters who hadn’t bothered with town elections in decades. Other than that, getting voters to participate in local elections is like pulling the proverbial teeth.

The question is – why?

Here in Massachusetts, the issue of which presidential candidate will win the electoral votes at stake was pretty much decided long ago. There is a red-hot race for senate that has attracted national attention, and some interesting state senate and representative races. But although the old axiom of “every vote counts” remains very true, the fact is our local impact on the presidential race is negligible at best.

Most of our selectmen and school committee races are decided by a few hundred votes. The people we elect set our local bylaws and regulations, control the education of our children, and directly influence our property taxes. They answer when we call them on the phone to complain, they live in our neighborhoods, and their actions affect our lives almost every day.

Mathematically speaking, our votes in local elections have a larger effect on those contests than state or national campaigns. We become bigger fish in a smaller pond. But that pond is where we live, it is our home. If our local problems can’t be overcome and solved, our national ones sometimes become less critical.

But our local candidates don’t spend millions upon millions trying to win our support. There are no Super Pacs spending non-stop to influence how we think and act with regard to most local issues. Our national defense and the balance on the Supreme Court are not dependent on how we vote in town elections.

But it will be your selectmen who decide if you will face an override vote in your community. They will hire your town manager, who will be responsible for budgeting for things like your public safety departments, maintaining your roads, and making sure an ambulance is ready to roll when you need it.

It will be your elected school committee members who will oversee the education of your children. You will trust your most precious possessions to the system they sit atop for five days a week. They will hire the superintendent, who will hire the teachers who will shape the very lives of our young people.

So by all means, get out and vote on November 6th. Your vote is more important than ever. You can’t make a difference if you don’t vote. Your country works best when the people in it do their job.

But come spring, do it all again. Come out and vote in your local elections. Play an active role in shaping your community. Be that bigger fish in that smaller pond. After all, government – like charity – begins at home.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook

1 comment:

John Houghton said...

Great column. Hope lots of people take it to heart and pay attention. You always make a cogent argument for people paying attention to their local issues. It is so important. Thanks!