Special Note: This article was written with my own city/county in mind. Your county may differ a bit as I point out in this blog but hopefully many of the points will still resonate!
Local governments, aka cities and counties, provide many basic and important services to our homes and businesses. Many of the more important officials within local governments are elected by us, yet many voters skip voting in mid-term elections and/or don’t vote their entire ballots in Presidential election years. Most local elections are non-partisan which means the candidate’s party affiliation is not publicized. Therefore, voters need to critically examine candidate’s positions or past voting records to determine the best qualified person for whom to vote. Let’s examine the importance of our local government and why it is so important to vote for more than just the President and elect good people to important governing positions.
For the purposes of this article, local government will refer only to counties and cities in Colorado, mostly Arapahoe County. In some states, counties are referred to as parishes or boroughs. In Colorado, we have numerous cities and 64 counties. In Denver and Broomfield, the city and counties are combined. Many times, counties overlap covering more than one city. Arapahoe County is Colorado’s third largest county and includes 13 incorporated cities and towns including the City of Aurora and the Town of Bennett.
The functions of local governments are plentiful. Their duties and services have grown substantially since the 1950’s with the rise in population and mass migration to the suburbs. Some of the most common services that cities and counties provide: removal and recycling of garbage, licensing of cars and marriages, recreational services and programs, local transportation, educating children, police and fire protection, prosecution of crimes, assessing property values and taxes, providing human services like welfare and job search assistance, maintaining county buildings, prisons and homeland security emergency/disaster coordination.
County governments are managed by elected Commissioners in Colorado. Arapahoe County has a Commissioner for each of its five districts who may be elected up to three 4-year terms. These Commissioners administer and make policies, oversee the budget and many departments and fulfill many other important duties.
Arapahoe-elected county positions include the County Clerk & Recorder who maintains official records and oversees elections. The County Assessor determines property values and taxation. The County Sheriff oversees prisons and law enforcement; and the County Treasurer collects and disburses taxes. Those elected to the above positions may serve up to three 4-year terms. The County Attorney, or District Attorney, serves as the legal counsel for civil suits and conducts criminal investigations. He/she may serve two 4-year terms. The County Coroner may serve unlimited 4-year terms. For more Arapahoe County information, visit www.co.arapahoe.co.us.
Cities in Colorado are formed under either statutory law (incorporated) or home rule municipalities ( self-governing but abide by State rules.) Both the City of Aurora and Bennet are governed under statutory law which is managed by an elected Mayor and City Council. They each may serve two-year terms with term limits as noted on the Colorado State Government website. City Councils are elected by district or at large. Mayors may veto items the council passes, hire city administration and department heads and draft budgets. Unfortunately, those who live in unincorporated parts of cities may not vote for either Mayor or City Council.
Education has only been mandatory since the end of the nineteenth century. School Districts were first formed in 1812 in NYC to determine where students would go to school. Currently there are about 15,000 school districts in the U.S. About half of the states are run by elected school boards including Colorado. School Boards appoint the Superintendent of their district and are responsible for creating school boundaries, establishing new schools and the funding for them, as well as determining curriculum. Much of what they do is public and often can be contentious like the issue of school vouchers. The two main school districts in Arapahoe County are the Aurora School District, with seven Board members and the Cherry Creek Schools, which has five Board members. These are elected, unpaid positions.
Mid-term or local elections roll around every two years yet draw much less voter participation than in the Presidential voting year. Do you realize that when you only vote for the President, you are allowing others to determine the important decision-makers who affect your life?! Here are some possible reasons why voters skip these important votes:
- Many don’t recognize the importance of these elections.
- Less media coverage is given in local elections than Presidential ones so the voter may not have the knowledge necessary for an informed vote.
- Many skip the elections entirely and only vote in Presidential years and just for the President.
- Voter suppression/id problems keep many from voting.
Why are the mid-term elections so important? Local and state elections touch the electorate more directly. Elected officials make decisions that impact your daily lives yet the media gives them less attention. Therefore, many are ill -informed about who is running and why it matters. Local elections are not so glamorous and don’t get the ratings for viewing. Many of these elections are partisan so you may not know which party the candidate affiliates with. It behooves you to do your homework, attend meet-and-greets, and ask informed people you know and respect about the choices. Also, local elections may include voting for school bonds, ballot issues and RTD Board members that could affect your taxes, transportation and other areas of your life.
As you read about the duties of our city and county officials, you can see how these elected positions greatly influence your daily life. Colorado makes it easier to vote than many states by mailing paper ballots. Elections should be taken seriously! Everyone needs to vote the entire ballot with informed choices. There are many opportunities for you to gather the information needed to vote intelligently and even meet the candidates by checking social media, special television programs, and attending local meetings. Please take advantage of these activities because those who are elected locally WILL and DO have an impact on your life and that of your family even more directly than the Federal elections do!