Promoting Civic Participation
by David Zokaites, Sioux Falls Mayoral Candidate
We must replace widespread complacency with active participation in American government. I want to encourage voting, promote honest public discussion, and provide citizens more voice in government. I have plans for an economical system that does all this. Democracy!
It’s frequently difficult for citizens to participate in our government. This is due to multiple problems, all of which can be simply corrected. The biggest impediments are insufficient publicity for local elections, candidate stances which are often mired in misleading political rhetoric, and politicians who are more concerned with funding campaigns than with public service. Different jurisdictions (city, school board, state) often have separate election dates and polling places. Additionally, special meetings (such as advisory board and “emergency” city council) give little notice. All these problems make me wonder –- is citizen involvement tolerated instead of being encouraged? Perhaps the goal is to create political theater that pretends to work for the people but all the while is surreptitiously reducing civic participation so that it’s easier to protect special interests.
To promote a healthy democracy, I encourage our city to distribute notice of elections and government meetings. We should publish overviews of issues, stances, and meeting agendas. I envision a system that allows people to enroll for notice of important civic events, the most critical of which are elections. People could also subscribe for notice of political meetings (county commission, city council, school board). Participants could similarly subscribe to selected citizen board meetings (ethics commission, parks board, planning and zoning, …).
To encourage people to sign up for event notice, the city should annually mail a letter to every city address. This letter would say please enroll in CIPS (Civic Involvement Promotion System). Enrollment is free and voluntary. There would be options to enroll online or with a prepaid postcard. Election notice could be sent via email, text message, or postal mail. Due to short lead time, some notices would only be available electronically. For elections, the system would send notice on voting locations, vote by mail, candidates, and initiatives. So that voters understand people running for office, candidates would provide introductions, mission statements, policy overviews, and questionnaire responses. This information would be provided to voters along with other election details.
For debates and candidate questionnaires, it’s critical to select appropriate questions because whoever controls the questions guides the discourse. The assessment of what’s important should be left to the candidates. Each candidate could submit 10 questions then all candidates would answer the same 5 or 10 randomly selected questions.
For meetings, the new system would send notice of meeting time, place, and agenda. This notice would be sent via email or text because special meetings and agendas often have short lead time.
In these troubled times when trust in government is at an historic low, when politicians hide behind divisive rhetoric, we need a way to reconnect citizens and their government. This new system will certainly help. Democracy!
Author’s note: This article is based on my presentation to Sioux Falls City Council on February 2, 2021. Video of my presentation is available online at https://amv.siouxfalls.org/OnBaseAgendaOnline/Meetings/ViewMeeting?id=3109&doctype=2 starting at 1:47:05 The PowerPoint is posted at https://www.davidzformayor.org/promoting-civic-participation—02022021