Why Vote? Does It Matter?

Urban Fairy Girl Votes Early
Urban Fairy Girl Votes Early

There are contradictory sentiments among the voting populace. I don’t mean conservative and liberal or Democrat and Republican. I mean the feeling that my vote doesn’t matter anyway and the opposing feeling of urgency to cast the next vote because we’re in a mess, or we could be if the wrong person is elected.

The former is nothing new: people of every era have sometimes felt powerless. For a large percentage of the planet, that is true. The urgency to record the next vote is also nothing new. Many people have felt that the country has been in a mess over the last decade or more. People on both sides have been very intent on impacting recent and coming elections.

Most of that intensity is centered on national politics. But what of local? Does it really matter who leads the city? We’ll still have potholes and schools won’t have enough money. Police won’t be paid enough. Crime and homelessness will persist. More people will talk about the Vols’ football season than about zoning. Mayors and council members come and go and who cares, right? Right? Maybe not.

Mayoral Candidate Forum, Knoxville News Sentinel Building, Knoxville, June 2019

Early voting ended yesterday and the primary election is this Tuesday. By that evening we’ll have at least narrowed the field. Six candidates for mayor will be reduced to two unless one gets over half the votes, in which case we’ll have named our next mayor. At large Seat C for city council will be reduced from five candidates to two, joining the other two candidates per open council seat for the general election in November. After the general election, we’ll have a new mayor and nearly half our city council will be new.

Only the harshest critics or staunchest cynics will say this isn’t a great era of progress and growth in the city. So much good has happened for us in recent years that it’s hard to enumerate the improvements. We’re in a good place. Will it last? The actions of these elected officials will go a long way toward determining the answer. If things turn sour, who will be best to guide us through rough times and bring us safely out the other side?

How will the newly elected officials deal with homelessness or the barely-housed? How well versed are they on the opioid epidemic and do they have a plan for it? Will they be able to build our police department to full strength? Can they guide us through the issues that divide us? Do they have a vision of what our city might become?

League of Women Voters, City Council Candidate Debates, News Sentinel Building, Knoxville, July 2018

Major decisions or tasks await this group. Will we have a new Safety Center? Should it be at the location of the former St. Mary’s Hospital? Will the city pay to have a baseball team back in town? Will the city demand good design in a new stadium? Will our city’s broadband continue to lag behind other cities? Can we attract great new companies to Knoxville? Can we establish a culture of entrepreneurship?

These things make more of a difference in our daily lives than politics at a national level, yet, many of us are more focused on national politics. Some of us could list close to twenty Democratic candidates for president but would struggle to name the five candidates for City Council Seat C. In focusing on the forest, we’re in danger of running into the tree.

You’ve got a weekend to cram before the exam. Who do you feel is best suited to continue this good run we’re on? It’s up to you. About 7500 people have early voted and about another 900 have requested absentee ballots (totals do not include the final day of voting). There are about 92,000 active voters in the city. Will ten or twenty percent decide your future?

If you need a quick look at the candidates for mayor you can look back at my article on a mayoral forum and for council you can skim back through my article on the council forum. No matter where you look, please look. Please vote. It really does matter. Polls are open from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm for the primary on Tuesday.