Education Impact: Elections and equal representation?

By Sarah Ostergaard

Tuesday, November 7, was Election Day for many town offices across the state. Did you vote? Do you live in a jurisdiction that held an election this year? According to, on this “Municipal Election Day” there were 217 elections in 39 counties across the state with about 1.2 million voters eligible to vote. 

Pragmatically, we don’t have a voice in electing everyone who controls every decision that could possibly affect us. Important decisions are made by elected officials voted into office based on the address of our primary residence. With ease of transportation, we choose to cross jurisdictions for recreation and shopping choices as we want. The education and other community decisions we make when we purchase or rent our homes are not as fluid. 

For those of us who live in the attendance zone for School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties (LexRich5), there are many different jurisdictions making decisions affecting our schools and community. And even though they make decisions affecting all of us, we are constituents in few. LexRich5 spans multiple jurisdictions, including the Town of Irmo, the Town of Chapin, the City of Columbia, unincorporated Lexington County, and unincorporated Richland County. At the state level, there are three State Senate Districts and four State House Districts. At the federal level, there are two Congressional Districts. 

Many decisions indirectly impacting education are made at the municipal/local level. Will the town council provide funding for an afterschool program, and which one will be selected? Is high-density development encouraged, or turned away? What are the zoning goals? What types of businesses will be sought? Will there be organized community events to bring people together and give young people something to do? Etc.

Many decisions directly impacting education are made by the LexRich5 Board of Trustees, with each member elected at the county level in nonpartisan elections. The next election for school board members is in November 2024. The Board of Trustees makes decisions as a whole, and those decisions directly impact all the LexRich5 schools in both counties; however, not every registered voter can vote for each individual school board member who will contribute to those decisions. If you live in Richland County, you may only vote for the school board candidates who reside in Richland County; if you live in Lexington County, you may only vote for the school candidates who reside in Lexington County – even though the school board makes decisions as a whole for all LexRich5 schools located in both counties. On the board, there are 3 school board members elected from Richland County and 4 school board members elected from Lexington County. Although in practice board members generally consider a stakeholder’s opinion, in reality, we are not each a constituent even if living in the LexRich5 attendance zone. 

A stakeholder is someone with a vested interest in a decision, and a constituent is a stakeholder with a vote. The ability to vote for an elected official is a distinction with a difference. Your vote is a statement of confidence in those seeking to hold office and make decisions affecting all of us, especially in an area with so many different jurisdictions. Your vote is also essentially a job offer; elections are the public hiring process for politicians. Few people tend to vote on Municipal Election Day, yet those elected to serve will be there for a while and make decisions affecting the whole community. 

If you voted on Tuesday, thank you.

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