Greg Siems: Make your mark this election season

Published 11:14 am Sunday, October 2, 2016

By Greg Siems

Vision 2020 Director

It’s easy to get swept up in the coverage of national elections. The question of who can best lead our country is obviously an important one, and it dominates the conversation on the nightly news, our social media feeds, and around the watercoolers at work. What gets lost in the shuffle, unfortunately, are the many local races that frequently have a more immediate and direct impact on our lives than who wins the Presidency.

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You could be forgiven for thinking that city councils, county boards, and school boards don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. After all, national and state bodies do wield the most power when it comes to taxes, spending, and regulation.  Local representatives, however, still play a huge role in making sure that our communities are running smoothly and preparing for the future.

Every day important decisions are made at the local level regarding education, public safety, recreation, street maintenance and much, much more. New outdoor trails might be getting built, or funding approved for a program at the library.  A school’s curriculum could be amended, or the road in front of your home resurfaced.

The point is, local elections matter.  They may not get as much media coverage or involve the biggest egos, but we all have a responsibility as citizens to pay attention and make our voices heard.

The challenge, of course, is how and where to start.  You are already ahead of the curve by reading the local paper and taking an interest in community events. I’m sure the Herald will have plenty more coverage of the election as we get closer to November 8th, but now, not later, is the time to get interested.  Start asking questions and talking to your neighbors about who they are supporting and why.  Attend a council or board meeting and see what issues are currently being discussed.  There are many ways to get informed, if you take the time to look.

An excellent resource can be found on the City of Austin’s website, at  If you’re not yet registered to vote, you can learn how.  If you’re not sure where your polling place is, you can follow links to find that out as well.  There are instructions for how to vote early if you can’t make it to the polls on Nov. 8, as well as sample ballots to see who is running in which races.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve left many ballot bubbles blank before (who has the time to form an opinion about 20 different district judges?)  But when it comes to city council or school board, the volume of choices is not so large and information is relatively easy to come by.

My challenge to you is to fill in as many of those bubbles as you can. Find out about the candidates’ records and priorities, and see how they align with yours. Getting involved in local politics doesn’t have to be painful or boring.  It can, in fact, be a very empowering experience.

The folks on the ballot are often our friends, neighbors, and coworkers. They, like all of us, care about the future of our community, and hearing from you can help shape the direction of their work.

For all the talk about problems in Washington, democracy is still thriving at the local level.  Indeed, “all politics is local,” as former House Speaker Tip O’Neill used to say. Be sure to make your mark and participate in this process, on election day and beyond.