Candidate filing for the May municipal and school board elections opens Wednesday.
That means election season is upon us once again.
Up for grabs will be four district seats on the Killeen City Council, three seats on the Killeen school board and two seats on the Harker Heights council, as well as four seats on the Central Texas College board of directors.
Many residents are no doubt worn down by elections at this point.
Voters went to the polls quite often last year, with primary elections in March, Killeen city and school board elections in May and primary runoffs — also in May. Residents hit the polls again in November for Copperas Cove and Nolanville municipal elections, as well as the statewide general election for national, state and county races.
As if those elections weren’t enough, Copperas Cove voters were asked to cast ballots again in December, to determine the winner of the city’s mayoral runoff.
Now, residents will be asked to weigh in at the ballot box again, with early voting beginning in April.
But before you consider opting out of the process this time around, consider this:
Your vote is your voice, and voting should be regarded as both an opportunity and an obligation. However, your vote is far from guaranteed, despite what is perceived to be a universal right enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
Looking back in our nation’s history, we can better put the right to vote in perspective.
When the nation had its first presidential election in 1789, only property-owning white men could vote, which represented about 6 percent of the population, according to Wikipedia.
In 1856, the right to vote was granted to all white men. But that right was not extended to African-Americans until 1870, with the passage of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which prevented states or the federal government from denying the right to vote based on race.
Still, women were not allowed to participate in the democratic process, with Wyoming becoming the first state to grant women the right to vote in 1890.
Over the next 30 years, the women’s suffrage movement gained momentum, with activists Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth leading demonstrations and rallies in support of national voting rights for women. Their efforts came to fruition in 1920, with passage and adoption of the 19th Amendment, giving women across the country the right to vote. However, not all Native American women had full citizenship at the time; that wouldn’t be established until 1952.
African-Americans had the right to vote — but only on paper in some areas. In reality, oppressive tactics such as poll taxes and literacy tests disenfranchised thousands of potential voters. The abhorrent, discriminatory “Jim Crow” laws were widespread, especially in southern states, leading to the Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s and ’60s.
During this turbulent period, nonviolent protests in support of equality and justice under the law often turned violent, as protesters faced resistance from counter protesters and police.
Despite the threat of violence and jail time, thousands of marchers continued their demands for equal rights, culminating in the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” march from Selma, Alabama, to the capital of Montgomery, led by Dr. Martin Luther King. Dozens of protesters were beaten by police and 50 were hospitalized, causing an outpouring of anger across the nation and directly leading to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
However, potential voters continue to be disenfranchised, through gerrymandering of voting districts, onerous voting requirements and fraudulent election practices, such as in the 9th Congressional District of North Carolina, where questionable ballot certification in the Nov. 5 election has led to calls for a re-vote.
Throughout America’s history, citizens have fought to receive and retain the right to vote. Thousands have marched in support of this right; hundreds have been injured or jailed for their efforts.
Others continue the fight in court — pursuing free and fair elections, with full representation.
For generations, our country’s service members have fought and died defending these rights — and continue to do so today.
And yet, too many people see voting as an imposition or troublesome obligation. That fact is borne out by the statistics — fewer than 10 percent of registered voters cast ballots in last year’s Killeen City Council and Killeen Independent School District elections.
That means nine out of 10 eligible voters stayed away from the polls.
But how would you react if you were told that you couldn’t vote — that your vote was being taken away, that you would have no direct say in who represents you?
That is what is effectively happening with a local water district’s proposal to expand its boundaries but also switch from elected to appointed representation — this, after holding its first contested election in 24 years last May.
Why does this matter? For one thing, Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 has the ability to set your water rates — from Copperas Cove to Belton. It also has the authority to levy taxes.
But more importantly, a switch to an appointed board takes the selection process out of the hands of the water customers and gives it to city officials — a system would make board members responsible only to those who appoint them and open the door to potential insider deals.
Make no mistake — expanding the board to nine members from the current five and giving each municipal entity served a place on the board would increase representation for the cities involved. However, stripping residents of their voting rights is not an acceptable trade-off.
The water board’s proposed plan still must get the Legislature’s approval, but prior to that, the district is peddling its plan to local city councils in hopes of receiving resolutions of support.
Several area cities have already signed on to the plan, with some stipulations.
Killeen’s city council tabled the issue last week amid concerns about the elimination of elections, but it will come before the council again on Jan. 22.
While there are no water board seats up for election this year, Killeen-area residents can take a stand on the issue of elected representation by speaking up — both at the Jan. 22 council meeting and in the days leading up to it.
Now is the time for residents to make their voices heard. Now is the time for our elected city officials to stand up for the rights of their constituents.
It is time to get involved.
If we are silent now, we could be silenced at the polls — and we can’t let that happen.