A little more than a week from now, Mainers all over the state will head to the voting booth. These aren’t just off-year elections: They’re off-off-year elections being held in an odd-numbered year. Apart from special elections, there aren’t any legislative seats being decided, but there are a number of referendums being voted on statewide. Towns, cities, and counties all over the state are also holding local elections, for city councilors, mayor, school boards, county commissioners and more.

If you’re one of the new Mainers who’s made the decision to relocate here during the pandemic – first of all, welcome! Hopefully, you find Maine to be a welcoming, friendly place to settle down. However, you might find these off-year elections a bit confusing, even if you’ve been here since 2019 or earlier. After all, 2020 was dominated by a heated presidential race, and here in Maine, we had a top-tier U.S. Senate race. With those elections, it was a lot easier for everyone – even relative newcomers to Maine – to simply apply their partisan blinders in the voting booth. If you voted in Maine for the first time last year, you might have even simply skipped the down-ballot races. Unfortunately, people often do that; it’s why the top-tier races ordinarily have higher turnout.

This time, though, it’s a little bit different. The top-tier races don’t involve candidates; they’re referendum questions. Moreover, they aren’t referendum questions that reflect a partisan or ideological divide that’s easy to discern: With each of them, you’ll find Republicans and Democrats on both sides. On each of these issues, you ought to do your own research and come to your own conclusion. It’s important that you don’t skip over them because you don’t understand them; if you decide not to vote on them, make that a conscience decision as well.

Instead, all of us need to make informed choices about each of these issues, because the outcome of each could have ripple effects on the state for decades to come. That’s particularly true of Question 1, which helps explain why it’s attracted millions of dollars in campaign money from outside the state – albeit from energy companies rather than either major political party. It’s also true, though, of Question 2, which seeks to spend $100 million in bond money on infrastructure, and of Question 3, which seeks to establish a constitutional right to grow your own food. These questions have mostly flown under the radar compared to Question 1, but that doesn’t mean voters should ignore them.

While it might seem like referendums are the only thing on the ballot, it’s important that all of us pay attention to our local races as well. While there are huge swaths of voters who only show up in even-numbered years – or even only in presidential years – when they do that, they’re missing out on some of the most important elections in the country, especially in Maine. Local officials, from city councilors to school boards and more, have a great deal more impact on our lives than most people realize. They’re the ones who often ultimately decide how state and federal money is spent in your area – something that’s going to be particularly important in the years to come. It’s not just on fiscal decisions that local officials can have an outsized impact, though.

Nearly every major issue being discussed nationally (apart from foreign affairs and national security issues) is discussed at the local level, too. Whether it’s taxes, climate change, police reform, education policy, infrastructure decisions, or any of a number of issues, local officials can take action just like federal and state officials. Indeed, the decisions local officials make can often have much more direct and immediate impact on our day-to-day lives than decisions made in Washington, yet many voters don’t know who they are and many of them run unopposed.

So, do your research. Find out who your local elected officials are, and if you want to know where they stand on something, don’t be afraid to ask them directly! One of the great things about Maine is it’s so easy to contact your elected officials, from your school board member to the congressional delegation. None of us should ever be afraid to step up and get involved. The health of our democracy and our state depends on citizen engagement, and that applies to all Mainers – whether we were born and raised here or just moved up yesterday.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel

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