Get informed, then pull the lever

By Andy Winemiller -

Depending on the position, every two, four or six years we choose who will lead our town, county, state and nation. It’s our right to head to the polls, and, sadly, less than half of our citizenry carries out that right.

Voting is really the fundamental way we, as citizens, influence what our government does.

Of course, voter participation varies based on the election year. More voters head to the polls when we are electing a president, but the fact is those with the most influence over our daily lives are much closer to home. They are the folks we see at the grocery store, rather than the ones spending millions of dollars on television ads.

When you sit back and really think about, it’s unlikely Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton will affect your life all that much. Of course, the office they both seek has huge responsibilities, but lets look at the things we care about on a daily basis.

There is nobody in these United States of America who could say in good confidence he or she doesn’t care about taxes. While there’s a federal income tax, much of what we shell out to the government happens at the local level. County commissioners set the property tax rate for all Surry County residents, and those who live in municipalities also ought to think about their municipal tax rates when they head to the polls.

The county board also has the authority to enact sales tax, and, of course, state officials set the state income tax rate.

Then there are the services on which we rely every day, or at least expect to be there when we need them. Police, fire, parks, water and sewer services are just a few we expect to be in place.

Whether it’s the paramedic answering an emergency at a home or the person trimming bushes on city property, we expect a certain level of services. When you look at those services frequently used in comparison to how often we might need the Army or federal disaster relief in our personal lives, the most important matters on my mind when I head to the polls are the elections closest to home.

What comes with one’s right to vote is a responsibility to make good, informed decisions. All too often, voters — and I once did it — head to the polls in November with strong emotions regarding who they want to see lead our country. However, they lack any knowledge of those seeking to lead further down the ballot.

Of course, it’s easy to form an opinion about Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton. They are everywhere. Their soundbites are on the radio. Their ugly mugs are all over television commercials. Stories about the two are plentiful. Thus, there’s little work needed to get a feel for those candidates.

The difference between the voter carrying out his or her basic right to vote and taking his or her responsibility to make an informed decision at the polls seriously is education.

However, we owe it to ourselves and to our neighbors to know all we can about everybody on the ballot.

That’s a difficult thing to do. We usually have some profiles of candidates prior to local elections, and I always try to do a nice story about everybody who files.

Some candidates are better than others at getting their message out to folks. I imagine some shake a lot of hands around the county, while others run less proactive campaigns. Some have time to knock on doors, and others play a tough balancing act between full-time employment, life in general and the campaign.

During the primary season this election I had an idea. Why not add a new twist to our election coverage? Rather than print profiles and dry stories, I thought it might be great to bring all of these citizens hoping to lead under one roof, and let them make their pitches to the people.

We set it up and held our first candidates forum in more than a decade. I found the conversations between those good people looking to hold public office informative and interesting. It was even comical and enjoyable at times.

We are going to do it again this Thursday at 6 p.m. at North Surry High School, and we are also going to stream the forum live on our Facebook page.

I hope every citizen legally able to vote this November carries out that right. What I hope even more is that all of those folks take their responsibility to make an informed decision at the polls seriously — to educate themselves prior to getting their “I voted” sticker.

Thursday night should be a great place to begin that endeavor.

By Andy Winemiller

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.