On Tuesday, Iowans have an opportunity to participate in democracy and have a say in governance — a right and a privilege that Americans will stand up and demand.

And yet that passion that fuels that belief in our American system doesn’t necessarily extend to voter turnout in the U.S., where having two-thirds of eligible citizens bother to cast ballots for president is looked upon as exceptional.

The 2020 election garnered turnout of 62% of Americans — the highest percentage in 60 years. In midterm elections — even though they decide such offices as U.S. representative, U.S. senator, governor and state and county positions — turnout typically doesn’t crack 50%.

In a way, this is all backward. A citizen really wanting his or her vote to “count” will have more influence on a local election, where just a few hundred or thousand voters turn out, than a presidential contest, where nearly 160 million voters participate.

Which brings us to Tuesday, Nov. 2. It will be Election Day across Iowa. Not a presidential election. Not even a midterm election. It’s a local election, deciding seats on city councils and school boards as well as measures put before voters, ranging from a hotel/motel tax in Peosta, Iowa, to Dubuque County’s conservation referendum to school taxing issues in several area communities.

These are elections in which, though the offices don’t hold the prominence of president, the outcomes are important. Who serves in city government or on school board and how they perform their jobs might actually have greater impact on local citizens’ lives day to day.

Yet too many eligible voters take a pass. Four years ago, in the Dubuque municipal election, which featured a mayor’s race and two open council seats, turnout was 18% — not great still but pushing double the 10% average of the five city elections before that.

Two years ago, Iowa communities had their first attempt at running combined elections for city councils and school boards. In the City of Dubuque, 14% of registered voters cast a ballot in 2019. The Dubuque Community School Board election garnered just 8.5% turnout in 2019, although there were no contested races. Still, that was an improvement over the 7.7% turnout two years earlier.

While some folks might consider their vote in a city council or school board election a drop in the proverbial bucket, that drop causes more ripples than a statewide or national race, where their vote is more like a drop in the Mississippi River.

The candidates on Tuesday’s ballot will help shape the direction of the communities they hope to represent, deciding weighty issues and serving as stewards of taxpayer dollars. The baseline of citizenship — of “wanting to give back the community,” as so many office-seekers claim — is not seeking elected office. It’s voting.

Editorials reflect the consensus of the Telegraph Herald Editorial Board.

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