Why your 2013 vote matters
Voters should not skip odd-year election for city councils, school boards and other local elections, writes columnist Kate Riley. Voters have more opportunity to impact their daily lives at the ballot box.
Times editorial page editor
Even-year elections get all the attention. Races for Congress, the Legislature and often governor and president stir up political fervor and ideological debate about Big Issues.
Odd-year elections, like this year’s for local races, might attract less fire but they provide voters the most opportunity to directly affect their lives at the ballot box.
Generally, citizens interact more often with a school than they do with a federal or state agency. Unfortunately, fewer voters take the trouble to vote. Odd-year election turnout statewide has hovered between 50 and 55 percent since 2005, while even-year turnout has soared as high as 84 percent in presidential election years.
Local races matter. Just ask the good people of the town of Pacific, who in 2011 elected Mayor Cy Sun by a write-in vote. Within a year, Sun had gone rogue, firing several department heads, including the police chief (who sued to get his job back) and causing various ruckuses.
As a result, the city lost its lower-cost insurance and had to buy insurance in a higher-risk pool. At one point, the City Council was exploring whether to disincorporate or annex to Auburn.
Tuesday , voters of the South King County town of about 6,600 will vote on whether Mayor Sun should be recalled. (He won in 2011 with only 464 votes in a three-way race.) Please, everyone, vote!
Fortunately, most cities, counties, school, hospital, fire and port districts are not in such serious crisis. Nevertheless, important choices will be made among school-board candidates that could affect everything from math curriculum to methods for effectively reaching kids so they don’t drop out of school. In particular, the Seattle School Board races should be watched closely, after board members themselves rated the board as dysfunctional. Who is constructive? Who would exacerbate the current dynamics?
Voters will be able to tweak their city councils with the positions on the ballot. How should the Bellevue City Council guide its resurgence in commercial development? In Seattle, voters can send a message about a pro basketball arena in Sodo, federal oversight of the Police Department and incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn’s unsuccessful efforts to scuttle the tunnel replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
As in every year, The Seattle Times editorial board will offer recommendations in selected races. For the primary on Aug. 6, we will recommend candidates in races where three or more candidates are vying for a position. We will wait until after the primary to endorse in races where only two candidates filed.
Last week, editorial board members began interviewing candidates for Seattle School Board, Seattle City Council and Metropolitan King County Council. I’m always impressed with people who are willing to invest time and effort to be an unpaid school board member. Some challengers are motivated by a troubling position of the incumbent, while others are looking for a way to use their skills honed in business or another arena to benefit the public. Nearly all candidates talk about “giving back.”
We will begin publishing recommendations next week. In each, we will be transparent about the issues we think are important — and there will be no surprises for regular readers of our pages. Our filters for school board candidates, for instance, try to discern which candidates are reformers intent on trimming a too-high dropout rate. For all municipal offices, we look for candidates with strong vision and sense of urgency about fiscal responsibility.
The most important recommendation we can make about these lower-profile races, is this: Pay attention. Ask questions of candidates. Read our recommendations and those offered by other organizations. Read news articles, candidate websites and take in a candidate forum, if possible.
Then vote. It’s important. Just ask the citizens of Pacific.