The long municipal and school board election season hits the home stretch Monday, with the start of early voting.
With polls open each weekday through May 2, Killeen-area voters will have seven days in which to cast early ballots in the May 6 election. On two of those days, polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., making the process even more convenient.
The big question is: How many residents will step up and vote?
For the first time since 2009, all four district City Council races in Killeen are contested — meaning no matter where you live in the city, you will have a chance to choose your representative.
In fact, all but one race has more than two candidates seeking a council seat, and three of the four council incumbents are seeking new terms.
After last year’s budget debacle, in which the council members found themselves scrambling to patch an $8 million shortfall, it’s imperative that residents elect representatives who are committed to making difficult decisions when necessary — and are qualified to do so.
Looking ahead, council members must confront several challenges, including shoring up the city’s deteriorating infrastructure, identifying new revenue streams, following through on an audit of the city’s finances and reducing the crime rate. None of these tasks is likely to be easy.
Choosing between an incumbent and a challenger is not as simple as it might appear. While an incumbent’s experience and knowledge of the issues is generally a plus, it’s also crucial to become familiar with the candidate’s voting history, political ties and responsiveness to constituents, when making the final choice at the ballot box.
Similarly, a challenger may seem to have all the right answers when it comes to priorities on city issues and spending, but before voting that person into office, it’s important to evaluate his or her ability to thoroughly understand the issues and make informed decisions.
The same holds true for candidates for school board.
The Killeen ISD board has two seats open. In one race, five candidates are seeking the seat held by the current school board president, who is not seeking re-election. In the other race, the incumbent is being challenged for the seat by a local teacher.
Both seats are at-large, meaning all district voters can cast ballots in both races.
With Killeen ISD facing challenges in the areas of special education, an anticipated loss of federal Impact Aid and the district’s poor performance on the Texas Education Agency’s A-F Ratings earlier this year, it’s essential that the district’s voters weigh all the information before casting a vote for school board trustee.
Whether the election is for the Killeen City Council or KISD board, it’s imperative that voters turn out in the next two weeks, as well as on election day.
During the last Killeen district election, in 2015, only 378 voters cast ballots in the District 1 race and 558 in the District 3 race, the only two contested seats that year. As a result, just 936 of the two districts’ 30,987 registered voters went to the polls — a turnout of just over 3 percent.
In the Killeen ISD election that year, just over 1,700 district residents — out of 90,000 registered — voted in the Place 7 race, and only 85 votes separated the two candidates on the ballot.
What do these numbers mean for this year’s city and school board elections?
First of all, residents must do a better job of getting to the polls. While voting numbers are typically lower for local elections, a 3 percent turnout is simply inexcusable.
The second takeaway is this: Every vote matters. When a council race draws fewer than 400 votes, and a school board election is decided by fewer than 100, residents should recognize that their ballots can make a difference in the outcome — all the more reason to get involved.
During this political season, the Herald has strived to inform the community about the issues and the candidates in the May 6 election — through a political forum, weekly candidate Q&As, issue-oriented daily coverage and a dedicated online site.
The Herald published a special eight-page election section on April 9, and more election-related information can be found in today’s edition.
All this content, plus candidate bios, videos and poll locations can be accessed at kdhnews.com/center for politics.
The decision makers we elect have the potential to affect our lives significantly, from the policies they enact and ordinances they pass to the taxes and fees they approve.
With that in mind, the only question about voting in this election should be when to go.
Your opportunity to be heard starts Monday.
Let’s get out there, voters, and make some noise.