Support Your Local Elections!
In Texas, local governments are considering new laws that would make it illegal to transport anyone to get an abortion on roads within their municipal limits. Imagine if abortion became illegal in New York state but remained legal in Connecticut, and the Broome County legislature adopted the Texas law. A person suspected of driving a woman from Ithaca to Danbury along Route 79 could be sued for “abortion trafficking” by a stranger in Whitney Point.
Local government matters. Local elections matter, too.
2023 is proving to be a robust year for local elections in Tompkins County. Voters in the City of Ithaca will elect a new mayor and fill all ten seats on Common Council. Candidates are running for councilperson, supervisor, clerk, highway superintendent and justice in the towns of Caroline, Danby, Dryden, Enfield, Ithaca, Lansing, Newfield, and Ulysses. County Judge Joe Cassidy, who is seeking re-election, and Deidre Hay, who is running to become a Justice on the New York State Supreme Court, will also be on the ballot.
Some would call this an “off” year, saving their attention, enthusiasm and donations for presidential elections. But the facts speak for themselves: In the U.S. we elect more than 500,000 local officials, who control over $2 trillion in local government spending. At the individual and community levels, local elections can even be more important than voting for president every four years.
Being an informed voter is key to having a say in local decisions that will impact you, personally and as a resident in one of our communities. It starts with educating yourself about your local government and elections.
Each local legislature differs in the scope of its powers. This space is too small to offer a detailed description of our county, city, town and village governments. But generally speaking, legislators are charged with reviewing and approving annual budgets, responding to residents’ concerns, communicating about policies and programs, regulating public land use and business activity and providing for public health and safety. Local legislative bodies may also adopt and amend a master plan, issue certain permits and create and work with volunteer boards and committees that play a significant role in decision making.
With so much at stake, members of local governments should be responsible, trustworthy individuals who have demonstrated good judgement and bring to the table important skills and experience: in accounting, for example, or law, public safety and so on.
It’s up to us, the voters, to look closely at candidates for these positions, choosing candidates who are most likely to govern prudently and rejecting those who lack relevant experience or demonstrate bad judgement. Fortunately there are a number of places where you can get the information you need to make good choices in November.
The TCDC website will be populating its candidates page over the next two weeks. If you don’t see your local races there the first time, check again in a week or so.
The county Board of Elections has sample ballots for voters in the City of Ithaca and the towns. You can find links to information about absentee ballots, early voting and Election Day by going to the BoE home page.
The Tompkins County League of Women Voters is another great place for at-a-glance election information.
Visit your municipality’s website to see who’s who in government, find out when they meet, check out openings on volunteer boards and even apply and participate! Encourage others in your community to do the same. Seeing the responsibilities of local government spelled out will heighten everyone’s awareness of the impact local government can and does have on our daily lives.
Let’s make engagement in local elections the norm, embedded in the very culture of our communities.
Linda Hoffmann, Chair
Tompkins County Democratic Committee