SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Active Sioux Falls voters will be voting in at least three elections this year.
Starting with Tuesday’s city election, June’s primary election and November’s midterm election, voters can have their say on local, state and federal representatives. Of those three tiers – local, state and federal – two political science professors said elected officials at the local level have the most impact on people.
“These are the elections that determine the people who are handling the issues that are most important to voters’ everyday lives,” Augustana University professor Dr. Emily Wanless said. “When you think about the issues that the mayor and the city council are grappling with – they are things like education, infrastructure, crime and police. These are issues that touch on voters’ everyday lives.”
University of South Dakota professor Dr. Michael Card agreed and pointed to an early example of the important role local government can play.
“Bill Farber showed us old pictures of Sioux Falls and if you looked at every picture, there was an outhouse in every backyard,” Card said. “Once Sioux Falls hired a city engineer, they got a water system and a sewer system. Deaths from cholera and other communicable diseases went almost to zero. That’s what a local government can do.”
Card said local government provides both goods and services. He said local governments moderate conflict within a community and provide healthy forums for discussion. Card joked he has many students tell him state and local government classes are boring, but he often responds by asking what communities would look like without local government.
“What would your streets look like?” Card asked. “Who would maintain the streets? Who would build the streets? Who would provide for the infrastructure to make sure that your sewage gets put away safely and that you have clean water to drink?”
Despite the important impact, turnout for local elections has failed to meet the higher voter turnouts for general elections held the first Tuesday in November.
In the last Sioux Falls mayoral election in 2018, 30.5% of the 105,470 registered “active” voters participated in the election. In the 2020 General Election, voter turnout was 73%.
State law states a person is no longer counted as a registered voter in city statistics when a person hasn’t voted in four years. If you are an “inactive voter” you can still vote, but after eight years of inactivity, the Secretary of State will purge the voter from the voting rolls. According to the Secretary of State’s website, there are currently 17,431 “inactive” voters in Minnehaha County.
Wanless said lower level races often receive less media attention and have smaller campaign budgets for advertisements. She said voters are more likely to turn out to vote when they are more informed and comfortable making a decision.
“Voters have to work doubly hard to figure out what these candidates stand for and who they are,” Wanless said. “As a result, oftentimes, (voters) just choose not to participate.”
She called on voters to seek information from news outlets to learn as much as they can about local candidates.
“We’re not going to necessarily see a ton of commercials or receive a ton of mailers, but that information is out there and it’s readily accessible in just a couple clicks,” Wanless said.
Card agreed the burden is often on the voter to learn more about local elected officials.
“It’s the most ignored level of government in all of America,” Card said. “What seems to grab our attention is something that offends us. And that’s usually happening nationally or internationally. Local news is becoming even more vitally important in terms of informing us about what’s going on.”