I watch South Portland City Council meetings the way others watch their favorite sports team. I cheer, I sigh, I yell at the screen, I applaud. Sometimes the evening ends in victory for our community; other times I shake my head in frustration.

The reality is that democracy is not a spectator sport. It requires that we make our voices heard by communicating with our elected officials, speaking out at meetings, supporting candidates and exercising the power of the ballot. Unfortunately, turnout at off-year municipal election is historically low. In 2019, only 21 percent of South Portland registered voters, voted. So, if you are on the fence about participating in the upcoming municipal election, here are five reasons to vote on Nov. 2nd (or before).

1.) Your vote counts (a lot). I know you hear every election that your vote counts, but it is even more so for non-partisan municipal elections. Local elections have important consequences. When you vote in a local election, you are electing officials who make decisions that directly impact you, your family, your neighborhood, and your community.

2.) Local government affects your daily life. City councilors make a myriad of decisions including the condition of our roads, where dogs can be walked, what you can or cannot do on your own property (including home renovations, lawn care and tree maintenance), transfer station services and fees, public transportation, social services, affordable housing, policing and public safety, cannabis ordinances, construction projects, and neighborhood master plans.

School board members are tasked with creating a safe and positive school culture, setting academic standards, supporting teachers and staff, ensuring transparency and accountability, and advancing policies that allow every student to thrive. This is your opportunity to vote for candidates that reflect your values and your sensibilities.

3.) It’s your tax dollars. City councilors influence and approve the annual municipal budget and departmental expenditures (including municipal employee pay), land purchases, capital improvement projects and allocation of regional, country and federal funds and grants. If the South Portland Open Space bond referendum (Question A) passes, councilors will be deciding how to spend an additional $4,500,000. This is your opportunity to vote for candidates that align with your fiscal philosophy.

4.) Change often starts at the local level. Many landmark federal policies first originated at the local level. It’s true — local politics have a long history of shaping change in our country from the ground up. Policies such as women’s suffrage, minimum wage, environmental protection and marriage equality all began at the local and state level. Not satisfied with what is happening in Augusta or Washington? Want change? This is your opportunity to vote for local candidates that share your vision.

5.) It’s easy. All South Portland polling places (Boys & Girls Club, American Legion Post, South Portland Community Center and Redbank Community Center) will be open on Tuesday Nov. 2 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. You also have the option of voting right now. You can cast your ballot at city hall Monday-Friday right up until Election Day, or by mail. To request can absentee ballot, call the city clerk’s office at 207-767-3201. A drop box is available at city hall for ballots to be returned. All ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Harness your passion and make a real difference, get involved in municipal elections. Get to know the candidates for city council and school board. If you have questions, reach out to them directly by email, phone, or Facebook. By voting in local elections and then holding officials accountable, you shape the future of our community.

Sari Greene is a South Portland resident, community activist, voter and can be reached at [email protected]

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