One thing is for sure in Dallas County — there is always an opportunity to vote. With the midterms firmly in our collective rearview mirror, we can look forward to the municipals.
November’s midterms were important, with candidates from every side of the aisle claiming that this was “the most significant election of our lifetime.” Some may have viewed this as hyperbole, but the many who walked, knocked, donated and otherwise supported candidates certainly felt the critical nature of the state and federal races.
And judging from voter turnout, so did most of us.
Across the state and county, turnout numbers were of presidential-race quality and quantity. The East Dallas voter participation rate was a whopping 70 percent, totally overshadowing that of Dallas County at 55 percent and the state’s 46 percent. It was still way behind Oklahoma’s 56 percent — argh!
The question now is: Can we keep the momentum for our citywide elections this spring? Most likely not, based on turnout history. But we should try, primarily because we should care.
The general election for Dallas mayor and every city council member will be held May 4, with early voting starting two weeks prior on April 22. With 10 candidates in the mayor’s race so far — filing ended Feb. 15 after this magazine went to press — a runoff seems guaranteed. It is scheduled for June 8.
Voting in state, federal and presidential elections is imperative. But we must remember that policies and priorities established by our locally elected officials are the ones that most directly affect us. Issues such as managing traffic congestion, the (poor) quality of our roads, public safety, affordable housing, homelessness and skyrocketing property assessments are addressed at the municipal and county levels.
And equally as important, we want residential and commercial development to align with our neighborhoods so our character remains. This is especially true for us in East Dallas.
During a recent conversation with Mark Clayton, outgoing city councilman for District 9, which covers Lakewood and much of Far East Dallas, he relayed his thoughts on one of the biggest challenges our city faces.
“We’re a city of great prosperity, yet nearly 400,000 of our residents don’t earn a livable wage. It’s not just a lack of housing quality at all price levels that is an issue, but also the lack of wages. This is creating a greater disparity between the wealthy and those without.”
We should all care about that.
This May we will elect a new city council without an incumbent mayor on the ballot, something we haven’t experienced since 2011. Fewer than 70,000 people voted in that election — a 6 percent turnout, which, by the way, is dead last in terms of voter turnout compared to every other large American city. That is embarrassing.
It’s crazy to think that a handful of voters will decide who gets to make decisions that directly impact us, especially knowing that the new mayor will set the tone of our city’s priorities, and our council members will be our representatives to voice our priorities.
In the coming weeks there will be plenty of opportunities to research candidates, including meet and greets, fundraisers and candidate forums. We need to ask questions so we understand the candidates’ positions on issues that are close to our hearts and homes. We have to keep incumbents accountable and vet the knowledge of newcomers.
And most importantly, we must vote.
Mita Havlick is a neighborhood activist. Find her commentary regularly in the back pages of our print edition and online at lakewood.advocatemag.com.
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