Brent Laurenz is the executive director of the North Carolina Center for Voter Education.
Raleigh city elections are right around the corner on Oct. 8. Of course, these off-year municipal contests don’t garner as much interest as a presidential or gubernatorial race, but every two years the citizens of Raleigh go to the polls and elect the city’s next crop of leaders.
In 2013, as in every odd-numbered year, Raleigh voters will be casting ballots for mayor, their City Councilor and two at-large Council members elected citywide. Local government leaders for the city are elected on a nonpartisan basis to serve two-year terms. Unlike the Wake County School Board or County Commissioners that serve four-year staggered terms, the mayor’s seat and the entire City Council stands for election every two years in Raleigh.
Unfortunately, the majority of citizens across the city choose not to participate in these elections and Raleigh’s leaders are usually chosen by about one-fifth of the city’s voters. It is fairly natural to see a drop-off in voter participation in non-presidential years, but in 2011 — in a city of more than 400,000 people and 277,000 registered voters — only 57,000 people voted in the mayoral election. That’s only 20 percent of all voters. In contrast, Wake County had 75 percent voter turnout in 2012.
Voter participation that low is pretty staggering for a city of Raleigh’s size and importance. As Raleigh continues to grow and evolve at a rapid pace, the people elected to lead the city will be tasked with making important decisions on growth, transit, housing, property taxes, parks, development and more, which is why it is so important for citizens to become engaged in local elections and have a say in who these leaders will be.
In today’s political world there is no shortage of resources providing information on who is running for office, even in local races. Between candidate websites, voter guides, public candidate forums and personal appearances, it has never been easier for voters to get educated on the candidates seeking elected office and cast an informed ballot. In fact, candidates for local office are usually the most accessible and will often personally responds to phone calls or emails from interested voters.
We all lead busy lives, but it’s important to remember that each and every election is important and we should never take our right to vote for granted. So while the Raleigh city elections may be at an usual time on Oct. 8 and not get a huge amount of attention, it’s up to every eligible voter in the city to get informed on who is running for office and make their voice heard about who they want leading Raleigh moving forward.
The City of Raleigh will be facing critical decisions in the coming years as the population continues to grow, so make sure you have a say in how those decisions are made. Get informed and go vote.