By Mary Coen

 We are the fortunate ones who live in a free country, legally allowed to make our own personal choices in life, to peacefully assemble with others of our choice, and to have a say in who runs our government. To maintain this freedom only two things are required of us, obey the laws and vote. Obey the law if you want to keep your personal freedom, and vote if you want to keep our national freedom. The first is pretty obvious: if you want to be free to move about in your life, you make the personal choice to obey the laws of the land. The second should be just as obvious but is not often put in this context: if you want to live in continuing freedom, you vote. Our ” right” to vote should be refocused: it should be our ” responsibility” to vote. We are not currently subject to any national conscription or compulsory service, so I don’t think that it is asking too much to show up every once in a while to vote. I also think that if you don’t vote you don’t get to complain.

Voting isn’t a hard sell for most of us in a general election. Choosing a president has a glamour all its own (and what a downer it would be not to be able to complain afterward). Even federal congressional (every 2years for reps!) and state-wide elections have some residual glamour attached, but by the time it gets down to local jobs – county, township, municipal, schools – it becomes a very hard sell to get people out to vote. And yet, on a day-to-day basis, we have more contact with local people and local government issues than with state or federal ones. Our roads, our garbage, our building permits, our schools, our utilities, our police, etc. are all the province of local governments. They have the most immediate effect on us.

The next obstacle to voting in local elections is how to become an informed electorate. In the larger state and federal campaigns, we are made sick-unto-death with political commercials. But they do serve the purpose of making the candidates household names and relatively easy to find information about. Except for some yard signs, I don’t see many of the names for local candidates and even then, I can’t always see what position they’re running for. 

So where to go for some information? First on the breakdown by responsibilities: town offices should be fairly easy to identify by town services, regulations and activities. Township is similar, picking up all areas not included in individual town borders. I lived here for 30-some years and never paid attention to “township” until my son moved back to town with his family. They bought a house 2 miles from us in an unincorporated section and I finally discovered what the “township” was – the arbiter of his permit to build a garage, the plowing of his road, etc…….in short, his local government. He was a local proponent for having chickens in his yard and even went to a TOWN meeting to support the idea even though the TOWNSHIP ultimately held to a different position. We are separate but interconnected. All citizens who reside within the township are taxed by the township, whether we live in an incorporated town or an unincorporated part of the township. The township provides some services open to all, such as senior services.

The county encompasses services that include things like judiciary and health departments for the larger area.

Now how on earth am I going to find the information I need to make a good decision in voting?  I can call the political party offices: they have info on all their candidates and some on the non-partisan candidates, hint: check this newsletter.  Your local library too is always a good resource. What they don’t know they can help you find out. If you are tech capable you can probably find some info online, at least some bios. The League of Women Voters sometimes fill this need. If they are in your area you can check with them.

So on to the actual voting: candidates for Township will be identified by party so you can easily find a  particular slate of candidates. If in doubt it is usually safe to vote a party line knowing that the individual will probably be in sync with your priorities and view of the issues. You won’t have this fallback position with non-partisan candidates for municipal offices, but you can contact your political party office for at least some bio information and recommendations of nonpartisan candidates who support our democratic values. And since this is not an exam, you can take a cheat sheet into the booth with you. Although I can’t recommend leaving any empty boxes, I am a firm believer that it is better to vote for those I know I support than to vote for nobody.

Sadly, recent events in DC have brought home the awareness that some terrorism begins in our home towns. The Jan. 6 mob came from communities just like ours. We all must wake up to our local society, open our eyes and ears, talk and listen and ask questions. We owe it to ourselves and to the next generation.

We are doing a better job of eating locally. Now go vote locally.