Amid the few dozen politicians who’ve put their name forward to run for president of the United States in 2020, it can be easy to forget the importance of the local and municipal elections happening this year.
Next week, from June 3 through June 7, is the filing period for individuals to declare candidacies in Utah’s local elections. Many positions, primarily city council seats, are up for grabs this election cycle, providing citizens of the many great communities of Utah Valley opportunities to affect real change at the local level.
We’ve harped time after time of the importance of voting in local elections. Historically, municipal elections, unflatteringly named “off-years,” see some of the lowest voter turnout year-over-year. We are realistic and honestly would expect to see the same this year, despite the historic voter turnout last year for the midterms, which hit a 50-year high of 52% voter turnout, according to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s office.
However, we also want to strum that same song to not only encourage voters to prepare to head to the ballots in August for the primaries and November for Election Day, but we also want to encourage those who may be on the fence about running for office to understand why we stress civic engagement so strongly.
With such historic voter turnout last year, we would love to see the ball continue to roll and see voter turnouts continue to improve, if not over the midterm year, then at least over the most recent municipal election cycle. What happens behind closed doors with big wigs in Washington is often less impactful at the local level. But what our city councils, mayors and local representatives vote on and debate hits closer to home, literally.
Consider last year’s election. While Ben McAdams and Mia Love sparred for the victory of their respective seat in the U.S. Congress, a grassroots organization of Orem residents motivated and inspired others to consider the zoning of their city, respective to a parcel of land near Utah Valley University. While we have certainly opined what we felt about the petition of the Palos Verdes property, we can’t ignore that the influence by these citizens was felt more by Orem residents than the voices of far-off legislators.
We hope that such lively debate in this and other local issues spurred citizens to find the passion for civic engagement and local politics. Our local city councils and governments should be representative of their constituents and historically, this has not been the case. Women, racial minorities and religious minorities have long been underrepresented by their political leaders. That trend has started to shift, and the most recent elections have been curving against the grain. Many cities elected female mayors and women make up parts of city councils more frequently, which we applaud. But racial minorities do not comprise what would be considered anything close to a proportional representation of their constituents.
We are not saying that only those with similar racial heritage can represent their own constituents. But we do believe that shared experiences, including trials and hardships, do provide for more empathy and understanding than those who do not. We hope those who feel underrepresented in their local government feel driven to represent their communities. And likewise, we encourage the voters to elect a candidate who will represent the community’s best interests, not just the best sound bite provider.
We also hope that incumbents choosing to remain on the ballot are doing so to actually make their respective cities and communities a better place. We know government apathy and even corruption occurs. We’ve seen it firsthand. It is optimistic, even naïve, to assume that will never happen again. But we hope for it regardless. We hope that those who choose to remain in office are doing so for the good of those they serve, not for themselves.
The opening of the filing period for candidacies reminds us of the need for a good government. This is not to say we do not already have one. But as the old saying goes, there’s always room for improvement. As Utah County continues to grow at an exponential rate, so should our leaders’ understanding of the issues and policies that impact each of the hundreds of thousands of Utah County residents.
We hope for good governance and honest campaigning. We hope for focus on real issues, not on discrediting opposing candidates. And we hope that the best candidate for the best future of their cities wins this election cycle.