Thursday, November 1, 2012

COMMENTARY: Does my vote matter?

I'm saying the same thing I do every election: Get out and vote!

I know people ask--does my one vote matter.  Here's an instance where I know mine did.

I generally vote tax increases if they're reasonable. No, I don't particularly like taxes, but as a very dear friend once said they are the price I pay for civilization.

And that one time I had to call the Fire Department at 4:00 AM, I was grateful for the two crews who arrived in less than five minutes. And even more grateful that the three smoke alarms went off on that cold dark morning because all their batteries died at once.

But, I'll get on with my story.

Back when I lived in another town, the City Council got cocky about keeping their word to the electorate about what they'd do with the taxes they collected.

My husband and I voted for the library tax increase. Their stated goal was computerizing the library system. We both thought this was an excellent and needed plan. When the levy was approved, the City Council cut Library System funding so the tax increase just went to operations. No computers that year and for a few after.

I wrote a letter to the Mayor and City Council member for our area, no response. 

Next initiative was fire and police stations. This city had expanded well past their ability to serve their population. For this initiative, the City Council provided maps with locations where they were going to place the fire stations and police stations. I could see the fire station was in an area where water pressure was low and the residents needed firefighters close to fight down any fires. People in those areas got out and got the voters on their side. The tax passed overwhelmingly. The City Council located the fire and police departments elsewhere--that map was just a "suggestion."

Again, I shot off an angry letter to the Mayor and the City Council members, no response.

I wasn't the only citizen who was angry. Cap that off with nearly losing the front end of our car to a massive pothole and having the city worker tell me, "we're not in the business of fixing streets." I called the Mayor's Office and my Council-person and advised both if there were accidents due to the poor condition of the streets, they were responsible. The pothole got fixed.

At that point, many of the residents were angry enough at the Council for not keeping their word, that we were not going to give them any more additional tax dollars.

The next election was on a cold rainy night. It was a single-issue ballot -- taxes for another city project. I knew I was going to vote no, but I honestly did not want to get out in the cold to cast my ballot.

My husband convinced me to go. We needed to stand up for what we believed in and send a message to the Council. So, we both went to the polls and stood in line to vote NO.

The tax question lost by eight votes. Two of those votes were mine and my husband's.  At that point, the Council complained and many of us responded by pointing out that they had not been truthful in the last two elections. While I can't say that things changed--the Council at least got something of a referendum for their behavior.

And yes, my one vote DID matter.  Yours does, too. Voting and speaking out are your two ways to get involved and get the government you want. Never miss a chance to exercise YOUR power. 

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, November 2012