By Constable Bruce Elfant
The 2008 elections turned out to be a tale of two cities; record high turnouts for the presidential primaries and the general election, but record low voter turnouts for the city elections where more than 90% of voters stayed home. Certainly the presidential election was important and more than 130 million voters set a new direction for our nation. However, city elections also matter. When I came to Austin in the 1970s voter turnout in local elections occasionally exceeded 40%. It has steadily declined to where less than 10% of voters skewed in certain parts of town now determine the outcome of city elections.
This year a majority of council positions will be up for election on the May 9th ballot and the winners will have to navigate a number of very difficult issues. If property and sales tax revenues fall further what should the city council cut from the city budget? Should they consider raising taxes in order to preserve certain city services? If so, which services should be preserved? What about growth and environmental issues? How should federal stimulus money be spent? Are you happy with city services including emergency services, electric and water, garbage, road maintenance, libraries, etc?
This is our opportunity to let the candidates know what we want from our council members. We can either vote for candidates we believe best represent our interests or we cede our opinions to others. Based on recent city elections it is likely that more Austinites will likely fly their flags on July 4th than will cast their votes on May 9. I’m not sure that is what our founding fathers envisioned when they went to war over the issue of taxation without representation.
Early voting for the May 9 city council elections begin April 27 and extends through May 5. Voter guides published by the Austin League of Women Voters can be obtained at public libraries or online at www.lwvaustin.org.
I hope to see you at the polls.