The University of Arkansas reports, in its 2015 “Rural Profile of Arkansas,” that rural counties in Arkansas are experiencing population loss, while urban counties are growing. In the Delta region, this is the continuation of a long-term trend, while in the Arkansas mountain regions it is more recent. However, regardless of location in the state, many of the rural areas served by an electric cooperative are following the national trend: population losses that result in a smaller voting base. This smaller percentage of rural voters results in a loss of influence in determining our elected officials, which translates into a weaker impact on the public policies that are adopted at a local, state and national level.
On the national level in particular, the voice of rural America is diminishing. Urban issues dominate the discussions in the United States Congress. To illustrate this trend, it is no longer a given that Congress will pass a Farm Bill. Our smaller percentage of voters also means that we have less influence on energy policy decisions, although those decisions impact us more than urban dwellers. Energy usage and energy costs per capita are many times higher in rural areas because of agriculture needs, distances traveled to work, shopping and education, as well as the cost of transporting fuel, natural gas and electricity to rural communities. Today, almost 40 percent of U.S. House members have no rural electric cooperative constituency at all. This makes it increasingly difficult to get the attention of these elected officials when legislation is introduced that would have a disproportionate impact on electric co-op members.
What can you do to help solve this problem? You can go to the polls to vote.
If voters from rural areas will speak out at the ballot box, our elected officials will take notice. Nothing speaks louder than votes on Election Day.
This month is a historic one for Arkansas as it hosts a primary election in March instead of May, as had been the tradition. In addition to the primary, the general election is a major one. This year, in addition to selecting a new U.S. president, we vote on our representatives to the U. S. House of Representatives, one of our U.S. senators and many of the members of the Arkansas General Assembly. The date of this general election is Tuesday, Nov. 8.
Between now and then, there will be many opportunities to learn about the candidates, as well as many of the issues that are facing our local, state and national government. Arming yourself with this information will help you cast a vote for the individuals who will best protect your interests in these policy debates. For information on some of the national issues, you can visit www.vote.coop and follow #CoopsVote. If you are not yet registered to vote, you can find instructions on how to do that at www.vote.coop. If you cannot vote in person at your voting precinct, you can vote with an absentee ballot. Information on how to obtain an absentee ballot can also be found at www.vote.coop.
You have the power to help rural Arkansas maintain its influence in government decisions that are made at the local, state and federal levels. Let your voice be heard. We can make up for population losses by making sure that every available electric cooperative voter is registered and voting. We can help each other. It’s the cooperative way.