With the midterm elections looming, most of the news covers the battle for the Senate, House, and Governorships across the country. Such high-profile races at the top of the ballot deservedly get a lot of attention, but it makes it easy to forget that there are important down-ballot races and initiatives that sometimes go unnoticed. Our staff will share some down-ballot items that they are following in their hometowns. Be sure to check your ballot for important issues facing your local community.
Meredith King, Research Director; Hometown: Akron, Ohio
Meredith King, living in Akron, Ohio, is closely following Issue 10 on the ballot, a charter amendment that would create a Citizens’ Review Board to provide oversight of the Akron Police Department in response to a local police shooting. Currently, the city has already begun establishing such a board but passing Issue 10 would mandate the board’s creation under Akron’s city charter. While some argue that the passing of Issue 10 would help codify the oversight board, others say that the requirements outlined in it are so confusing that it might prevent reform instead of promote it.
Christy Wolschleger, Project Manager: Hometown: South Lyon, Michigan
Christy Wolschleger is following a local school board election in her hometown of South Lyon, Michigan. Four candidates, all who have been South Lyon residents for nearly 20 years or more, are running for two seats on the South Lyon Board of Education. David Veselenak, a metro-Detroit journalist, says that Lyon Township “saw a 60% increase in its population in a 10-year span.” Veselenak notes that “No other Michigan community saw the percentage growth that Lyon Township saw in those 10 years.” With a growing community and uncertain times COVID-19 has brought on education, electing two qualified school board members will be critical.
Ethan Heilig, Senior Research Analyst; Hometown: Asheville, North Carolina
Ethan Heilig, who is from Asheville, NC, is keeping his eye on an initiative to authorize $30 million in bonds to raise capital to develop greenways and bolster conservation efforts. According to Buncombe County, this initiative would cost the typical household around $280 over the next 20 years. Commissioner Terri Wells argues that bonds are more effective at “supporting long term goals like conservation.” The Mountain Xpress explains: though capital could be raised through increasing taxes, that would subject the projects to a “pay as you go” method of funding which are “more subject to economic fluctuations” and the changing whims of elected officials.
Drew Weinstock, Research Analyst; Hometown: Davidson, North Carolina
Drew Weinstock currently lives in Washington, D.C. and is following Initiative 82 (I-82), which would change tipped employees’ compensation in the city. Currently, minimum wage in D.C. is $16.10 per hour, although employers are allowed to pay less “as long as each employee makes enough in tips to meet or exceed $16.10 an hour.” I-82 would require employers to raise base pay to $16.10 per hour across the board, regardless of whether employees traditionally receive compensation through tips. Some restaurant workers support the initiative as they believe it would help stabilize their compensation. Others, like Julie Sproesser of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, say I-82 “will negatively impact tipped employees, small businesses, and diners across the district. If passed, it would significantly limit the earning potential of DC’s tipped employees by as much as $10,000 annually.”
There lies some uncertainty in what I-82 would mean for tipping norms in D.C. Tipping would still be voluntary, but service charges and fees added during the pandemic already make closing out a bill confusing for many patrons. While some say knowing their server and other staff are making the $16.10 minimum wage would help in handling a check, others see it as leading to a more expensive night out.
Catherine Smart, Research Analyst; Hometown: American Fork, Utah
In 2018 the Utah State Legislature proposed an amendment to the state constitution that allowed them to call “emergency sessions” without the need for approval from the governor. Voters approved this amendment, and emergency sessions were called twice in 2020 to address the pandemic, as well as several times since regarding a wide variety of issues. Now, the legislature is seeking to further expand this power by raising the limit of funding appropriation during an emergency session from 1% to 5% of the state budget. Some argue this is an overreach of power by the state legislature, erasing checks provided by the governor, county government, and school boards. Others believe that legislators should have more flexibility to act on behalf of the voters who elected them. This amendment is the culmination of two controversial years in the Utah Legislature and will be a bellwether for Utah politics for the years to come.
Kesley Townsend, Research Fellow; Hometown: Provo, Utah
Kesley Townsend is following two highly contested propositions in Utah County. The first, known as Prop 1, asks voters living in the Alpine School District to approve $595 million in bonds to build multiple new schools. The second, known as Prop 2, gives Orem residents the power to leave the Alpine School District and create their own district due to immense population growth in recent years. Both propositions are controversial, but when combined, the stakes are even higher. Depending on the outcomes of both propositions, taxes could decrease anywhere from 5.3% or increase up to 17.3% depending on where you live. It is estimated that if the bond is passed, taxes will increase an average of 8.2% a year. Much of the controversy stems from the possibility that if Orem does create their own school district and the bond passes, Orem residents would still have to pay their percentage of the bond in taxes until the Orem school district becomes official.
Though Senate and House races get most of the shine, it is important to remember that local politics have just as much, if not more, effect on your everyday life. Check your local ballot for initiates and races like these, so that you can be informed on election day.