Vote Local: It’s easy, it’s important, and it’s happening soon

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Written by Austen Macalus 

 

It’s election time, Minneapolis! Last year’s presidential campaign, a hot mess of politics, may be a not-so-distant memory -- but, like the Beastie Boys before returning to Brooklyn, democracy doesn’t sleep.

With the national political landscape as contentious, divided, and downright wacky as ever, local elections are even more important o get involved in.

City elections in Minneapolis are Tuesday, November 7th. This November. Like less than a month away. In Minneapolis, all city officials are up for election, including mayor, city council, members of the Park Board, and the Board of Estimate and Taxation.

I know, I know, it’s a very exciting time. You’re probably jumping off the walls with excitement, so you might as well register to vote now at http://www.sos.state.mn.us/elections-voting/register-to-vote. Voting as a college student is fairly straightforward. You only have to reside in Minnesota for at least 20 days. Paying out-of-state tuition or having a driver's license from another state doesn’t mean you can't vote in Minnesota. You can check out your polling place at http://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us/.

And if you are really revved up, you can vote early! Learn more at http://vote.minneapolismn.gov/voters/ABSENTEE.

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If you couldn’t tell, I am kind of a politico junkie. I spent this past summer working on local campaigns, including a mayoral and city council campaign. For the most part I helped out with communications, writing, and research.

Campaigns are an exciting and crazy experience. They are equal parts frustrating and exhilarating, stressful and euphoric. And they provide the perfect opportunity for young people to get involved. If you have time in the next month, I encourage you to volunteer with a campaign. Doorknocking isn’t as scary as you might think.

I’ve also been heavily involved in political organizing, especially working to get young people involved in our political process.

During the last city election in 2013, only around 7% of students voted -- more students voted for campus leaders than mayor. Across the city turnout was below 50% in each Ward and two out of three registered voters did not cast a vote.

Young people and students have often felt disenfranchised in local politics. This is unfortunate because so much of local government affects our lives, such as affordable housing near campus.   

Luckily, there are a lot of new resources aimed at engaging young people in local politics. One of the best resources is the ThisIsMpls, a non-partisan voter guide compiled by Voices for Racial Justice, designed by Pollen Midwest with music from Rhymesayers Entertainment. The site provides information to learn about what ward you live in, where to vote and who’s running. Check it out at http://www.pollenmidwest.org/voter-guide/.

It’s important for younger voters to have a say in city government.

Local politics directly affects how we live our daily lives -- whether we will ride public transit or enjoy nature in beautiful parks. It’s not only filling in potholes and changing street signs -- local politics determines the future and vision of Minneapolis. City officials make decisions with vast consequences for more than 300,000 residents.

In Minneapolis, we have a weak-mayor, strong-council system. That means power is dispersed amongst government officials, making it all the more important to stay informed about who’s running not only for mayor, but for city council and park board.

The mayor is primarily responsible for appointing the city’s commissions, including the chief of police, proposing the annual budget, and serving as the de facto public advocate for the city. Learn more about who’s running for mayor here.

The city council holds most of the legislative and administrative power, they make policy concerning environmental sustainability, workers’ protections, affordable housing, public infrastructure, policing and more.

The Park Board is responsible for maintaining our parks system, the #1 parks system in the nation. The Board of Estimation and Taxation reviews department budgets and sets city taxes.

For such a small form of government, there’s a lot going on.  

Recently, local politics brought about a $15 living wage and a comprehensive city-wide recycling program. Looking toward the future, local government will have a large role protecting the city’s status sanctuary status, expanding public transportation, and starting to reform our police system.

Although city elections may not be a glamorous spectacle, there are an opportunity to influence our government and improve our city.

And it’s our responsibility to be involved as students. Voting is not only a civic duty, it’s the best way to influence our government and improve our city. Especially in local elections, one vote goes a long way.

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