On a sultry August 9th afternoon, community leaders and civic-minded citizens from Milpitas convened during a forum on voter turnout and civic participation in the city. The event was organized by the Milpitas Democratic Club and moderated by the Club President, Deepka Lalwani. This was a second forum of its kind. The first one was held on March 9th 2014.
The evening began with brief presentations from city officials including Community Librarian Linda Arbaugh, Battalion Chief Richard Frawley, and City Councilmember Armando Gomez. Ms. Arbaugh described new services provided by the city and county library system, including assistance for new immigrants to register for voting, initiatives to permit early absentee voting at the library, and the new library cards unveiled by Santa Clara County. Battalion Chief Richard Frawley followed as the second speaker, focusing on services provided by the Milpitas Fire Department which include fielding over 4,000 calls from Milpitas residents in the past year. The Battalion Chief noted that the Fire Department frequently acts as a first-responder during medical emergencies within the city. He informed the audience that the citizens can avail of a mobile application called PulsePoint, available on Android and iPhone, to notify community members of nearby medical emergencies and provide live streaming of fire dispatch calls. The third speaker was Council member Gomez, who stressed the importance of being an informed citizen and voter. The Councilman described his experiences in campaigning within Milpitas for previous elections, sharing his observations of a discrepancy between the demographics of the city and the data on frequent voters.
Each speaker was followed by a series of panelists who each shared a brief statement on their role in the community and their perspective on how to improve civic participation and voter turnout within the City of Milpitas. Panelists included: Joseph Weinstein, Chairperson of citizens budget force; Aditya Ullal, a Research Associate at the Palo Alto VA hospital and moderator of a recent Affordable Care Act townhall event in Milpitas; Amine Lalani, spoke about the global non-profit Aga Khan foundation she represented. Gunawan Ali Santosa, Member of the Milpitas School Board; Rob Means, community activist and Milpitas commissioner; Jose Leon, Legal Shield Representative; Keith Scott, building contractor; Andrae Macaphinlac, representing the office of Assembly Member Bob Wieckowski.
Andrae spoke about the fact that the young voters refrain from voting as they believe their voice will not be heard, The Assembly Office has set up internships for young people to engage in civic participation. Idrees Munir, an active member of the local Ahmadiyya Mosque spoke about the youth belonging to the mosque who contributed to social causes.
Following speaker and panelist presentations, the audience of over 20 citizens were requested to ask questions about civic participation in the city. The evening culminated with a brief brainstorming session between panelists and audience members on specific steps needed to engage citizens within Milpitas. Speakers, panelists and audience offered diverse opinions on increasing participation from the community.
Dana Arbaugh, talked about Neighborhood Watch and National Night Outs, he has been organizing in his neighborhood.
Joseph Weinstein added that most citizens are civic minded and when city faces important issues like library, parcel tax, outsourcing services or closing of Rainbow theater; citizens have participated and voiced their opinion.
Marsha Grilli, also added a valuable pointer that when the voter participation was low, they reached out to the education community who helped with putting out notices in ethnic languages.
Another panelist suggested that a newly appointed city commission could be a non-partisan avenue to increasing voter turnout and civic participation. The second suggestion was for the group to meet again.
By the end of the panel discussion, it was noted that nearly 20% of eligible citizens in Milpitas have never registered to vote.
Overall, attendees, panelists, and speakers agreed that this would be the start of a fruitful and ongoing dialogue within the city on how Milpitas citizens can be inspired to action. Community members are invited to attend future events on this topic, in support of the objective to empower citizens to take an active role within the city.