OPINION: KCLS supports citizen engagement year-round

Column by Lisa Rosenblum, the director of the King County Library System.

The first Tuesday in November is Election Day, a consequential day for our democracy when citizens have a voice in determining the outcome of issues that will impact their lives.

King County residents made their voices heard in 1942 when they voted to establish the King County Rural Library District. In 2004, voters were heard again when they approved a $172-million capital bond to build, renovate or expand community libraries that will serve them for generations to come.

Despite what many consider to be one of our most important civic duties, voter turnout can ebb and flow depending on the election cycle, whether it’s a presidential or midterm election, or what measures are on the ballot. According to King County Elections, the average voter turnout by precinct for the 2017 General Election was 43 percent. However, experts believe that voter participation will be greater if citizens are well-informed on issues, have fewer barriers to voting, and feel that their vote matters.

To that end, KCLS has partnered with King County Elections and the nonpartisan League of Women Voters (LWV) to increase awareness of candidates, issues, and places to vote, and to encourage an active and engaged electorate.

In partnership with LWV, libraries are offering an array of voter-education programs and materials, such as candidate forums, pop-up information tables, and related online resources (www.kcls.org/elections). To make voting more convenient and accessible, KCLS’ ongoing partnership with King County Elections has resulted in the placement of ballot boxes at 18 KCLS branches: Algona-Pacific, Auburn, Bellevue, Boulevard Park, Covington, Enumclaw, Fairwood, Fall City, Kingsgate, North Bend, Newport Way, Shoreline, Skyway, Snoqualmie, Valley View, Vashon, White Center and Woodinville. In addition, the Bellevue and Kent Libraries serve as accessible voting centers, two of only five in King County, where voters with disabilities have access to specialized equipment to independently cast a private ballot (visit King County Elections webpage for dates, hours of operation, and other locations).

KCLS also offers classes and English language learning programs year-round for residents seeking citizenship, and hosts naturalization ceremonies to celebrate the culmination of our newest citizens’ hard work and determination.

As a trusted and venerable institution, the public library plays an essential role in supporting civic engagement. Before you head to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 6, we hope you will turn to KCLS to meet candidates, discuss issues, and find the information you need to be an active participant in your democracy.

Lisa Rosenblum is the director of the King County Library System.

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