by Julie Tisdale
City & County Policy Analyst
In less than four weeks, North Carolinians will vote. And in many counties and municipalities, it won’t just be the elections for president and governor, but a variety of referenda on local issues. These questions are generally the very last things on the ballot. They may be on the back. So, they’re easily missed or ignored. Or, by the time voters get to them, they’re just so “voted out” that the last thing they have any interest in doing is reading through referendum language.
But referenda are really important for at least two reasons.
First, particularly with the sorts of referenda on ballots this year, they very directly affect residents in the counties where they’re decided. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, referenda this year fall into three categories.
Those are all things that very directly affect lots of people. Sales tax rates affect every purchase of school supplies or household good, Christmas presents or movie tickets. We all pay some sort of sales tax almost every day, so a change in that rate very directly affects all of us.
Bonds are essentially debt, and repayment falls on taxpayers. Sometimes there are specific tax increases to pay back the debt. Other times money is diverted from alternative uses or tax rates remain higher than they could have been in order to make loan payments. Either way, taxpayers are on the hook for bonds long after the vote is settled.
And alcohol is something that most adults purchase at least on occasion, so changes to when and where it can be purchased and consumed have broad impact on both consumers and the businesses that sell it.
There’s another reason that referenda are important, and that’s the size of the electorate. For a big national or statewide race, there are millions of voters. But for these local referenda, there are far fewer, so the result can often come down to just a small number of votes. There’s just no chance that your one vote is going to make any difference to the outcome of the presidential race, but a local bond issue or sales tax increase or change to alcohol laws could be a different matter. Voting on these measures is actually really important.
These measures are all unique, and individual voters will have to make up their minds on the particulars, but there are some principles that are worth bearing in mind.
So vote wisely on November 8, and don’t forget those local referenda at the end of the ballot.