Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Get your democracy on!

On November 8, 2011, polling sites across New York State will open so that voters can elect representatives to a number of seats ranging from Supreme Court judge, mayor, and state representative to name only a few. In Utica, the mayor’s seat is being sought by five local candidates who each believe they can make the city a better place to live. To help voters understand each candidate’s position on local issues, RCIL and the Utica/Rome League of Women Voters will be holding a candidates forum on October 27 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. at the Dorothy Smith Advocacy Center on Genesee Street in Utica. The community forum represents a chance for residents to pose important questions to candidates whose leadership will affect our everyday lives for years to come. According to Donna Gillette, RCIL’s policy analyst, “the candidate forum is akin to a town hall meeting where residents come together to exercise their political and social power”. Gillette notes that communities cherish these local races because they give the opportunity to be part of real “hands-on” governance since city officials are typically more approachable and accessible and often live right in the community where the race is taking place.

Once at the polls this year, all voters will be using paper ballots and ballot scanners to cast their votes as the entire state has made the switch from old lever machines as mandated by the Help America Vote Act. The paper ballots can be used easily by voters with disabilities. Even those individuals who typically need assistance with paperwork through a ballot marking device at each site can cast private and independent votes. College students can also vote in their college communities and are encouraged to do so as issues of transportation, the environment, safety, and taxes impact their college experience to a great degree. Taking advantage of local candidate forums like this offers residents the chance to be active participants in the American democratic system. Making a decision about who to vote for should be based on knowledge of each candidate’s world view and priority agenda and where those fit with one’s own ideas. The challenges posed by shrinking federal and state budgets means that local policy-makers are having to re-think how to provide important public services in ways that make the most impact. Deciding which programs and services will be cut and which will be kept depends in large part on where residents stand on the issues and the long-term effects of making budget decisions.

If local garbage collection was cut, what would the health and environmental implications be when homeowners and tenants are forced to deal with the overflow at greater cost to themselves or by the illegal dumping that would result? What would the unintended consequences of cutting public health be when free or low-cost infant immunization programs are eliminated or reduced? What would the impact of increased property taxes be on an aging Social Security-dependent tax base? It is vital to have representatives who can work through all of this while assuring that communities can provide for themselves and their futures.

It is up to us to demand that our representatives are up to this challenging job.

Attend a candidate’s forum, take a friend to vote, or write a letter to the editor - just get involved. Complaining about what’s wrong is easy. It’s doing something about it that takes a bit of effort.

For more information about local races and information on polling sites in your neighborhood, visit the NYS Board of Elections website at http://www.elections.state.ny.us/. Deadlines for registering to vote are coming fast and are included here for your reference.

 - Donna G.

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