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April 18, 2012

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I completely agree with you, Clay, about the importance of voter participation for our nation and our communities. A disconnect exists among the American people between the vote they cast and its consequences in their community. Megan Gude’s blog post on “How Much is a Street Light Worth?” perfectly articulates the inability for people to rectify the political process with the outcomes. The voters in Colorado Springs were perfectly content with voting to cut services rather than increase taxes; however, when they actually lost those services there were outraged. The city employee that had to explain, “you voted for this”, learned better than anyone that we fail to take ownership for the outcomes of our votes, or lack there of.
I think it is important to highlight an important component of your call to arms for people to vote for their communities, which is—vote for your community leaders! Obviously it will be important for people to vote during this election season due to the presidential election; however, for the sake of our communities, it is very important to vote in the smaller elections, as well. For a local election, the percentage of voter turnout is typically half of the voter participation yielded for presidential elections.
At the local level, elected officials, and the issues, are closer to the communities and people they serve. It is the only level of government where the public’s opinions can actually be translated into action. Ultimately, local government is more important than the rest, in regards to quality of life and distribution of public services; thus voters should become more active participants in their local politics.
The future of our communities is not dependent on the decisions made on Capitol Hill. The media, water cooler gossip, and even the academic curriculum of politics in universities all contribute to the notion that national elections are more important than local elections. However, if a vote were cast in Washington to stop federal and state aid to local governments for the purpose of keeping on streetlights, would people notice? Probably not. The local governments would likely find revenue sources to cover the loss in funding, and would keep the lights on. Just ask the people in Colorado Springs if they noticed when that same decision was made on the local level.

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