"People have spoken" is a frequent sentence used after each election, whether it is a triumphant candidate claiming victory or a gracious candidate conceding defeat. More precisely, it is voters who have spoken.
Since becoming a U.S. citizen one year ago, I participated a couple of local elections, and most recently Texas primary. One thing, I observed, and frequently reported, is that participation rate in local elections is low, very low. To me local election is as important, if not more important, as national elections. Local elections can have direct impact to our daily life: the increase of property tax due to a passed bond issue, an enactment of a new ordinance due to elected city council members ......
Register to be a Voter
In order to participate in the Democratic process, the first thing one needs to do is to register to be a voter in order to vote. It was the first thing I did after I became a naturalized citizen. One can register to be a voter at local office of DMV. One can register at county courthouse - you don't need to go there to get registration form - typically this form is available at a local library. If you don't have time to go to those places in person, you can register online.
After registration, I was sent a voter registration certificate - voter ID. On it, listed which congressional district I am in, as well as state senate or representative district; most importantly as voting is concerned, which precinct I am in. Different precinct may have different ballot, because of difference in congressional district, state districts.
Be an Informed Voter
One reason that the participation rate is low is that there is no announcement of local elections. I got to know that there was a local election because I saw signs from election candidates. Then I went to city government website - there it was, there was an announcement of a local election or special election. More frustration arose since I could not find any information about the candidates - just their names.
It was not easy to be an informed voter. After the two local elections, and before the Texas primary, I decided to do a bit research to find resources for information on when election will be held, who is on the ballot, and where the candidates stand on the issues important to me. The information is out there, scattered, not widely known, especially to new voters.
General election information - time of election, pooling place and candidates are listed on a county government website - I believe that it is about the same all over U.S. List of candidates and issues can be found in a sample ballot. For Collin county, the website is http://public1.co.collin.tx.us/elections/polling_locations/default.aspx (there are sample ballots).
General information is available as well http://www.co.collin.tx.us/elections/election_information/index.jsp
The county website does not have information about candidates.
I found the information on where a candidate stands from voters' guide from League of Women Voters ( http://www.lwv.org/) their state branch(http://www.lwvtexas.org/), as well as local branch ( http://www.lwvcollin.org/). Most likely one can also find voter's guide from local newspapers. Printed voters' guide from league of women voters might be available from local library.
I also go to a candidate's website via Google search if I am really interested in where she/he stands on issues.
For this primary, it took me 2 ~ 3 hours to research, to decide who/what I would vote. I believe that I will spend much less time in general election in November since I identified where I can find information to be an informed voter.
Cast your Vote
In a democratic society, elections have impact on all aspects of our lives. On local level, it can be ordinances, bond issues, property taxes, water rate ..... On national level: Laws that impact our life directly (do you know that concealed weapons are allowed at Yellow Stone National Park?); How we live (Health care reform, Social Security Reform....); how TAX dollars are spent (wasteful spending eventually will lead to more TAX), ...... The list can go on and on.
Participation is a key to democracy.
Time to Vote!