By Scott Tibbs, September 26, 2014
The elections this year are called "off year" elections, not taking as much attention as the Presidential election every four years but important all the same. Here is why you should care and why you should vote.
The biggest items on the ballot, of course, are the federal legislative elections and state legislative elections. This year will determine who controls the U.S. Senate in January, but state legislative races are also important. It is the states, after all, where many of the most important reforms and policy changes have taken place over the last four years.
But where most people pay the least attention is one of the most important reasons to get out and vote in November. (Or October, if you vote early.) It is local elections that affect voters most directly, and local elections are where each individual vote matters most. Back in 2007, one city council race was decided by only six votes.
The local elections on the ballot are important. One of the most important is Assessor. Anyone who remembers the assessment mess in 2002, where incumbent Judy Sharp assessed a gas station at $350 million, knows how that office can affect not only individual property owners but also local government finance. Local taxing units faced a loss of over $6 million due to Sharp's bad assessment. Smaller errors in property assessment can impact property owners and how much we pay in property taxes, so it is important this is done correctly.
The Prosecutor's Office is important as well. The Prosecutor is the one who is the final line of defense in protecting the community from criminals, but also in making the right decisions in what to prosecute. Radley Balko has documented prosecutorial misconduct all over the country in his various writings, and his exhaustive research shows how a bad prosecutor can do a lot of damage.
The Sheriff is an important office, not only because he manages the deputies but also because he manages the county jail. That is a huge amount of money to manage, and the jail itself is important for obvious reasons. We saw in 1997 how much damage a sheriff can do when he is mismanaging his office, especially if that mismanagement is intentional. Electing the wrong person to this office can have lasting consequences for years.
The county council manages the county budget, and determines how, where and how much money is spent. We elect four councilors this year and the other three are up again in 2016. The council can be an important check on administrative offices through the power of the purse strings.
The Clerk's Office manages a number of things, such as marriage licenses and civil court filings. Incumbent Democrat Linda Robbins has made a mess out of the last two elections, with unacceptable delays in counting the votes as well as an inexcusable mess in 2011. It is important that she be removed from office by the voters
We can often look at elections for President or even Governor and think our vote does not matter. In local elections, our votes matter a great deal and the final total can be very close. Fourteen years ago, less then one hundred votes in the at-large election would have changed the makeup of the county council. Eighteen years ago, the third and final seat on the county council in the at-large election was decided by a razor-thin margin. Even if you do not think your vote matters in state or federal elections, that vote matters locally. It is unfortunate that so few people use that power.