Municipal elections matter

Better UTAH Beat Episode 59 – August 6, 2013

It can be hard to care about much of anything in August. The days are hot even while they start to get shorter. After weeks without much water, gardens are droopy and sad-looking, lawns a little more yellow. Meanwhile, kids all over the country are dreading going back to school. It, is apparently, a month of aggression as well– With hotter temperatures comes an increase in violent crime. For these reasons David Plotz, Editor of the online news magazine Slate, wrote a rather brilliant essay several years ago in which he argued for eliminating August.

“Cede the first 10 days of August back to July, thus extending holiday revelry for more than a week,” suggested Plotz. “September would claim the last 10 days of August, mollifying the folks who can’t wait to get back to serious work. Labor Day would come 10 days earlier, the school year would run longer, and the rush of fall activity could get jump-started. August itself will keep 10 days. That is just enough: Every summer we’ll be able to toot happily, ‘Gosh, August went by so quickly this year!”

But there is something you should care about this August: the municipal primary elections. Early voting for municipal primary elections is currently ongoing, and the final day of voting will be August 13. Unfortunately, voter turnout for municipal elections is abysmally low, and it is even lower for the primaries.

The Daily Herald, Utah County’s paper of record, has reported astoundingly low early voter turnout rates for many of the county’s cities this year. In Provo, only 47 ballots have been cast so far. Spanish Fork has seen 23 voters and Saratoga Springs, home of failed congressional candidate Mia Love, has received only 32 ballots. This certainly fits with historical patterns for municipal voter turnout.

In Salt Lake County in 2009, voter turnout for the general municipal election was only 19.5%. You can bet it was even lower for the primary. For example, over the last four years in Weber County, turnout for the primary election was as low as 15 percent. In 2009, Logan, a town of roughly 50,000 people, only saw 5,000 of them vote for mayor.

Then there are the cities who can’t even get people to run for office, let alone vote someone into office. Bear River, Corinne, and Fairfield don’t have any candidates for mayor at all and many cities have uncontested mayoral and council races.

But you really should care about who runs your municipal government. Even though years in which a presidential election is held have much higher voter turnout, who you elect to your city council has far more immediate and local impact. With so few voters in play, council members and mayors often win by just a handful of votes. Logan Mayor Randy Watts won by 251 votes in 2009, while Hyde Park Mayor Bryan Cox won by a mere three votes. Your vote matters.

Your vote literally could be the difference between electing a council member who supports strong municipal infrastructure, and one who would prefer to sell-off public services to private companies. Your vote could be the difference between someone who is intent on raising your property taxes, and someone who is more fiscally conservative.

Your vote for president of the United States, well, it’s one in a hundred million. Your vote for city council, it’s one in a thousand. The odds are definitely in your favor.

So even though August might not be our most interesting month here in Utah, the primary elections still make it a month worth paying attention to. And with so little going on in August, there’s actually plenty of time to pay attention to your municipal primaries. If you haven’t checked out your candidates yet, do it now. August 13th is just around the corner.

This is Maryann Martindale with this week’s edition of the Better UTAH Beat.

Have a great week, and remember, together, we can make a better Utah.

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