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Elizabeth Viney: 'Why You Can't Afford to Sit Out Your Next Local Election'

It has been said that municipal elections are largely ignored due to their non-partisan, and therefore less "newsworthy" political nature. These elections are also held in what is considered to be the "off-season" of the election cycle, months after gubernatorial and presidential races. Even given this set of circumstances, it's a bit astonishing to see how low voter turnout for these elections tends to be. Take the state of Texas, for example. In 2019, Hidalgo County saw the lowest voter turnout across Texas at an abysmal 6.49%, while Harris County saw the highest at 15.69%. This trend isn't rare in Texas, though; it percolates throughout the nation. This year in Cook County, Illinois, only 14.7% of registered voters showed, while 13% of Cole County, Mississippi, and registered voters cast their ballots.

Whatever the case may be for such low voter turnout, Americans must recognize the impact of local city elections on our daily lives. It's time for us to get back to our roots of embracing hyperlocal decisions rather than accepting blanketed one-size-fits-all policies that fail to be reflective of our country's unique and varied needs. After all, a responsive and efficient local government deters the need for big government intervention in the first place.

Consider the issue of public safety, for instance. A few weeks ago, a neighbor of mine in East Dallas, Texas, was tucking in her children for bed when she heard what sounded like gunshots outside of her home. Wisely, she decided to wait until sunlight to go outside and investigate, only to find the next morning that the windows of her Suburban had been shot through and that there were bullets splayed inside her car. A situation like this, where shots are fired right outside residents' front doors, isn't at all uncommon in big-city neighborhoods. In fact, instances of this sort are even considered mild compared to what many other citizens live through regularly.

A general rule is that every city should have three officers per 1,000 residents, with fluctuations dependent upon crime levels. Based on the most recent population data, the city of Dallas has approximately 2.2 officers per 1,000 residents. With the Dallas Police Department woefully understaffed, officers are expected to take overtime shifts in order to try to cut the agonizingly long 911 response times. Instead of incentivizing officers to take overtime shifts to accommodate resident needs, the Dallas City Council disappointingly voted to cut the police department's overtime budget. Their vote to defund our police department empowered those seeking harm in our community and crushed the morale of our understaffed police force. How can residents expect officers to respond promptly if they are continuously overworked and understaffed? National election results have no bearing on long response times when local government is the primary decision-maker on how funds are distributed.

The local government's job is to get ahead of problems like this before they become so enlarged that they require heightened government intervention from state legislators and congressional leaders. Yet, on issue after issue, too many local governments do little to take care of foundational needs, whether it is repairing pock-marked roads or ensuring that our public safety levels get back on track. In order to hold local government accountable, we have no choice but to vote for change.

In my years of being a full-time practicing attorney, engaged community volunteer, wife, and now a mother of three, I have stood where you stand now: busy, driven, and focused on immediate life demands rather than on what was gradually happening in and around the city. It wasn't until I heard my neighbors' stories and fears and felt the hopelessness of having my representative on the City Council shrug about it that I realized how critical the local government's role is. When my husband Marshall and I moved to East Dallas nearly 14 years ago, we knew that we would want to stay, play, and live in this city for years to come. We didn't know that our area would later become riddled with potholes that could have been fixed already, crime that could have been avoided with a solid and supported police force, and rampant homelessness that blankets our public space. It's a disconsolate state of affairs, no doubt, and demoralizing for those of us to have ideas to solve these problems. Fortunately, though, our votes—yours and mine together—can fix them. After all, we cannot be satisfied with the average of only 10% of our population carrying such critical decisions. The City Council is the foundational piece of all government, directly determining how your city, state, and the federal government will act in accordance with your needs. Therefore, you cannot afford to sit back and let other people make decisions on your behalf. We cannot continue to allow our cities to operate at such inefficient levels that it invites bloated government intervention.

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About the Author:

Born in Louisiana, Elizabeth Viney is now a proud Texan who has lived in District 14 for nearly fourteen years. After graduating from the SMU Dedman School of Law, Viney completed a federal clerkship in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, then began her law practice as a commercial litigator with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher—where she practiced for five years.

Viney's commitment to a safer, more prosperous Dallas is perhaps best evidenced by the hundreds of pro bono hours she has poured into aiding residents, law enforcement, and the civil justice system to make neighborhoods safer and empower families to restore hope and dignity to their community.

In addition to her service, Viney recruited many other attorneys to volunteer in this work as well, together donating over 1,200 hours of pro bono service. For this work, Viney was awarded the 2017 Good Works Under 40 Award presented by the Dallas Foundation and the Dallas Morning News.

Viney has also been a longtime outspoken advocate for local and international organizations fighting human trafficking, violence against women and children, and supporting healing and reconciliation. Viney and her family are also active members of Watermark Community Church.

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