Guest Spot: Let’s be more informed, engaged citizens

The good news is that our local elected officials take notice and pay close attention to the issues that generate a lot of public input in Southold and Riverhead. The bad news is that most of us are too busy or otherwise engaged, so there are very few issues that generate much public input. Most of the hamlets on the East End have active civic associations that host very informative meetings on critical issues (clean drinking water, town code enforcement, tax abatements for wealthy developers) but typically have very low attendance.

Elections are similar. In last month’s election of two members to the Southold Board of Education for three-year terms, only 20 votes separated the person who was elected (the second-place finisher) from the person who wasn’t elected (the third-place finisher). Next week, on June 25, there will be a Democratic primary to choose which Democrat will run against the Republican incumbent for the U.S. House of Representatives. Typically, in primaries, only a fraction of eligible party members vote. As a result, the candidate who represents the party in November has been chosen by only a fraction of the party faithful.

It doesn’t have to be this way — with important decisions being made based on little input from “we the people.” Grousing about our politicians and the way things run at the local, state and federal levels isn’t productive. The good news is that each of us can take simple steps to be more informed, engaged citizens, and then we can make a difference in how things are run. Some simple suggestions to be more informed and engaged include:

• Choose to get your news from at least two different perspectives. Whatever your favorite news source, listen/read at least 15 minutes every day to get the news from a different perspective.

• Don’t automatically vote the party line. Before voting in any election, research and learn about the policies of the candidates. Make sure you can identify three policies of your preferred candidate before you vote for them. If a candidate has held office before, review their voting record on the issues important to you. Let’s stop voting in elections based on negative sound bites, and vote only for candidates who have shared their policies with us in a way that we can understand and get behind.

• Commit to yourself that you will vote in every election in which you are eligible (and that you will research the candidates as stated above). If you are a Democrat, this means voting in next week’s Democratic primary!

• Pick a local topic and get engaged with your civic association. Even if you can’t regularly attend meetings, reach out to your local civic association and offer to do research and/or write letters on the topic important to you. Civic associations need more people to help track progress (or lack thereof) on lots of issues.

Let’s not leave it up to our neighbors or others in our political parties to be more informed and engaged. Regardless of political affiliation, let’s each do our part to make a difference!

See you at the polls!

Ms. Stokes is an election inspector and board member of the Southold Peconic Civic Association. She also writes The Suffolk Times’ monthly Southold-Peconic Neighborhood News column.