The Backyard Voting Booth

It’s fall. Summer vacations are over, children are back at school, the heat of summer has given way to cooler weather, and jewelers are hard at work gearing up for the most important selling season of the year.

But the fall of a presidential election year also means pollsters are analyzing every twitch of the American people to see whether soccer moms, young high-tech geniuses, or some new force will be the deciding factor in choosing our next national leader. Much of the twitching public, meanwhile, has probably had its fill of campaigning by now and wishes the election were tomorrow instead of a month away.

Obviously, choosing the President of the United States is a very important task, one that requires an educated, informed decision. The candidates’ positions on various matters will impact Americans’ lives in the macro sense, but the elections that affect your business on a daily basis frequently get far less attention than they deserve. A presidential, gubernatorial, or senatorial election will always draw more voters, and their highly publicized, well-funded campaigns will always overshadow the more mundane business of electing a zoning board or township supervisors. But your city or county officials are the ones who issue permits for building expansions, who decide whether or not to add more police to patrol shopping areas, or even if you may use your own parking lot for a tent party!

It goes without saying that the right to vote is the cornerstone of American freedom. You should vote. Your employees should vote. And if you choose not to vote, then you shouldn’t complain about the outcome. But we’re being bombarded by so many political messages and mudslinging that it’s hard not to “tune out,” let alone remember what each candidate promises to achieve. Here’s a refresher list of some salient points to make comparisons:

In a presidential, senatorial, or congressional election, where does a candidate stand on trade issues, such as tariffs and import quotas, mergers and monopolies? Issues such as these can affect how and where you source inventory or how much margin you make on imported products vs. domestic products-or whether a major employer in your town stays profitable, gets bought out, or shuts down and lays off. Where does he or she stand on equality issues, family leave issues, wages, health insurance, and Social Security issues? What about crime-both violent and white collar?

In electing governors, mayors, city councils, township supervisors, zoning boards, or other such officials, consider whether each candidate is a friend to the business community. Ask what will happen to your taxes if the programs supported by a particular candidate go through. Ask yourself, “What am I planning on doing with my business in the future, and will this person’s policies stand in the way?” Is his or her idea of commercial growth consistent with yours, both in the amount and the type of growth? For example, is the candidate opposed to adding any additional retail space to your neighborhood when you’d like to draw more traffic? Does he or she favor building a mall when you feel you’re already overstored? Perhaps he’s hoping to lure heavy industry to your town when you’d rather have clean high-tech firms. Does he or she favor physical changes to the area that will either positively or negatively affect your store, such as new roads, changes in traffic patterns, or new public transit?

Obviously, it’s important to balance business concerns with your conscience when it comes to the candidate’s stand on personal issues, but that raises another question: Do you actively support a particular candidate by placing a sign in your window or making a well-publicized donation to his or her campaign? Or do you get involved in politics yourself? What does it mean for your customer relationships?

Having never owned a business or run for public office, I don’t have concrete answers-but I’d be interested to hear from readers who do. If you have a story to share, please feel free to call me at (610) 205-1102 or e-mail me at hschupak@cahners.com.