Michelle Mann

With all eyes focused on the upcoming national election, it’s easy to forget that Aug. 25 is a red-letter date, too.

Municipal elections are Aug. 25 and area voters will be asked to decide who will govern their city for the next four years.

Who cares? Yes, I know. It’s my civic duty, a constitutional right, a privilege fought for and defended by brave American troops. But my single vote won’t make a difference. Elected officials are just going to do whatever they want anyway. What kind of authority do councilmen and mayors actually have? And—mostly—who cares?

Realizing that many of this year’s first time voters were not yet born when President George W. Bush’s narrow victory in 2000 over Democrat challenger Al Gore ended up being decided by the United States Supreme Court, I’m leaving the importance of a single vote issue alone.

But consider these seven reasons that it might be a good idea to exercise your right to vote in the Aug. 25 municipal elections.

No. 1: Municipal elections are non-partisan. That means that voters do not have to decide on a candidate based on political party affiliation. Some suggest that nonpartisan elections create better informed voters because they do not simply rely on party affiliation. The candidates running for office in municipal elections run on their own ideals, not under the umbrella of a particular party.

No. 2: Local government affects your daily life. Councils appoint members of the various boards that govern aspects of the city, to include the school boards. City government can levy certain types of taxes in order to pay for services that are provided in the city. Cities can enforce criminal ordinances in the police jurisdiction. Construction and development can be regulated through the application of municipal building codes and subdivision regulations.

No. 3: The mayor serves as the head of the executive branch of the city. As such, he or she is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the city to include the city employees, ensuring that bills are paid, execution of municipal contracts and, in general, performing many of the same functions as a CEO of a private corporation.

According to the Alabama League of Municipalities, in cities of less than 12,000 inhabitants, the mayor also presides over council meetings and serves as a member of the council. In these cities, the mayor may vote on any issue before the council, introduce measures and participate in debates to the same extent as members of the council. In cities with populations of more than 12,000, the mayor is not a member of the council. However, he or she has a veto over any permanent action taken by the council. The council can override the veto by a two-thirds vote.

No. 4: The council is the legislative branch of the city. As such, council members have authority over the finances and property of the city. According to the Alabama League of Municipalities, the council establishes policies, passes ordinances, sets tax levels, determines what sorts of services the city will offer and has authority over all other legislative aspects of municipal government.

Individual councilmembers, acting alone, have no greater power or authority than any other citizen of the municipality, according to the Alabama League of Municipalities. “The council can only act as a body at a legally convened meeting. No official action may be taken by any individual council member. All official action must be taken by the council acting as the governing body.”

No. 5: Everybody didn’t always have the right to vote. There are five amendments—15th, 19th, 23rd, 24th and 26th—in the Bill of Rights that ensure United States citizens over the age of 18, regardless of race or gender, have the right to vote. The 1961 Alabama Legislature established the first uniform election procedures for Alabama cities and towns. These laws have been amended over the years but they still provide the basic election procedures used to conduct municipal elections in this state.

No. 6: It’s easy to register to vote—and it’s free. A citizen may register to vote when applying for or renewing an Alabama driver’s license or non-driver identification card, at state and local government offices when applying or recertifying for Aid to Dependent Children, SNAP, TANF, Food Stamps, WIC, Medicaid, at public libraries, at armed forces recruiting stations, at the county board of registrars and by mailing in the form available at probate judge and license offices. A mail-in registration form may be obtained by calling the county board of registrars or the elections division in the Office of the Secretary of State at 1-800-274-VOTE or by mailing in the form downloaded from the Secretary of State’s website at alabamavotes.gov. Citizens who are 17 years of age at the time registration closes but who will become 18 years of age prior to the election are permitted to register.

No. 7: Most important—if you don’t vote Aug. 25, I don’t want to hear who you think should have won Aug. 26.

Michelle Mann is a staff writer for The Southeast Sun and Daleville Sun-Courier. The opinions of this writer are her own and not the opinion of the paper. She can be reached at (334) 393-2969 or by email at mmann@southeastsun.com.

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