When we hear “civic engagement,” most of us think of voting. Involvement means researching candidates and causes, volunteering to canvas for signatures, and mailing your ballot on time. But there are plenty of ways to participate that cost nothing more than a few hours of time and actively benefit your life, family, neighborhood and community. Thanks to dedicated Thurston County government officials and staff, it’s easy to make a real, long-term difference.
Voter turnout is perhaps the easiest way to influence your region. FairVote.org reports that “In recent elections…Washington ranked seventh among the 50 states and D.C. for voter turnout in the 2018 election.”
Our commitment pays off. Researchers at PRRI explain that “Americans feel confident that people in their community can bridge political divides to solve local problems. A majority (56%) of Americans say they are optimistic that people in their communities who hold different political views can still come together and solve the country’s problems… Across all demographic groups, majorities of Americans agree: To make change happen, it is generally more important to get involved in local issues than national issues.”
Within Thurston County, officials make it easy to engage and participate. Auditor Mary Hall and her team have implemented many strategies to ensure voting is fast, convenient and easy. “Voting in local elections is vital to determining the future of our community,” says Hall. “The officials we’re voting for now will determine how we handle tough issues, everything from housing, homelessness and traffic. Voting is not only important but easier than ever with Same Day Registration and paid postage for ballots. Voters can now register and vote until 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.”
Same Day Registration “is a new feature of our elections in Washington State that voters may not be familiar with,” says Hall. “Anyone can register and vote at the same time if they come to our office or a voting center through 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.”
Misplaced the hardcopy information you received in the mail? Find your local voters’ pamphlet, ballot drop-box locations, and specifics relevant to the most current election on the Auditor’s section of the Thurston County homepage. There you can also learn about restoring lost voting rights, find regional jurisdiction maps, and follow official election results.
Beyond Voting: Get Involved
But this year consider taking the next step. The Board of County Commissioners is always looking for people to become an integral part of the democratic governing process. Commissioners John Hutchings, Gary Edwards, and Tye Menser agree that “The knowledge, experience and time citizens contribute to Thurston County ensure that programs meet the needs of the people. Our needs and opportunities are many and varied. You can play a key role in helping shape, advise, or oversee specific County programs. Thurston County’s boards and commissions have more than 300 members—citizens just like yourself.”
“If you don’t get involved with your local government or vote, others will continue to make decisions for you,” says Commission Chair John Hutchings. “No matter what your individual interests are, you have the opportunity to invest in those interests at the local level by getting involved. Local government touches every aspect of your daily life; roads, animal services, nursing, salmon restoration, public health, mental health, environmental health, land use, criminal justice system…just to name a few.”
As of October 2019, these boards and commissions are seeking nearly 20 volunteers to help shape policy, procedure, and plans for the future. From the Fair Board to the Timberland Regional Library Board of Trustees, there’s something for every niche, taste, background, and passion.
Through the BoCC, interested applicants can read more about positions, terms, meeting schedules, and who to contact for more information. For example, the Historic Commission has four vacancies on their 12-seat commission. Terms run for four years and the group meets just once a month. Candidate’s duties include promoting the preservation of historic places, reviewing proposals to alter properties on the County historic register, and serving as the review board for special property tax valuations.
While some seats prefer a background in the industry or specialized training (like those seeking a seat on the Timberland Regional Library Board of Trustees, for example) it’s seldom required. All that’s required is a willingness to serve and a heart for your community. Positions are unpaid but the influence and effect are greatly appreciated.
Running for public office requires a special type of person. But anyone can take their seat on a board, commission or committee. If you have questions about the process, the BoCC provides direct contact information for staff who are happy to answer questions otherwise call LaBonita Bowmar, Clerk of the Board, at 360-786-5447. Do your part, get involved and make a difference in—and for—all of Thurston County.