‘The most overlooked level of government’: the importance of local elections

SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) – Active voters in Sioux Falls will vote in at least three elections this year.

Starting with municipal elections on Tuesday, primary elections in June and midterm elections in November, voters can have a say in local, state and federal representatives. Of these three levels – local, state and federal – two political science professors said elected officials at the local level have the most impact on people.

“Elections determine who takes care of the issues most important to voters’ daily lives,” said Dr. Emily Wanless, a professor at Augustana University. “When you think of the issues the mayor and council are dealing with, it’s things like education, infrastructure, crime and policing. These are questions that affect the daily lives of voters.

University of South Dakota professor Dr. Michael Card agreed and pointed to an early example of the important role local government can play.

“Bill Farber showed us old pictures of Sioux Falls and if you looked at every picture, there was an outhouse in every backyard,” Card said. “Once Sioux Falls hired a municipal engineer, they got a water system and a sewer system. Deaths from cholera and other communicable diseases have fallen almost to zero. That’s what a local government can do.

Card said local government provides both goods and services. He said local governments moderate conflict within a community and provide healthy discussion forums. Card joked that many students tell him state and local government classes are boring, but he often responds by asking what communities would be like without local government.

“What would your streets look like?” Card requested. “Who would maintain the streets? Who would build the streets? Who would provide the infrastructure to ensure your sewage is safely disposed of and you have clean water to drink? »

Despite the large impact, turnout in local elections failed to match the higher turnout in general elections held on the first Tuesday in November.

In Sioux Falls’ last mayoral election in 2018, 30.5% of the 105,470 registered “active” voters cast ballots. In the 2020 general election, voter turnout was 73%.

State law dictates that a person is no longer counted as a registered voter in city statistics when a person has not voted for four years. If you are an “inactive voter,” you can still vote, but after eight years of inactivity, the Secretary of State will purge the voter from the voters roll. According to State Secretariat websitethere are currently 17,431 “inactive” voters in Minnehaha County.

Wanless said lower-tier races often receive less media attention and have smaller campaign budgets for ads. She said voters are more likely to vote when they are more informed and comfortable making a decision.

“Voters have to work doubly hard to understand what these candidates stand for and who they are,” Wanless said. “As a result, often (voters) simply choose not to participate.”

She called on voters to seek information from the media to find out as much as possible about local candidates.

“We’re not necessarily going to see a ton of ads or get a ton of mail, but that information is there and it’s easily accessible with just a few clicks,” Wanless said.

Card agreed that it’s often up to the voter to find out more about local elected officials.

“It’s the most ignored level of government in all of America,” Card said. “What seems to catch our attention is something that offends us. And this usually happens nationally or internationally. Local news becomes even more important to inform us of what is happening. »

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