The Importance of Local Elections
Updated: Aug 6, 2020
When it comes to elections, the American public primarily focuses on who will become president, but local elections arguably exert greater influence on the welfare of American citizens. Whether it be the mayor or members of the school board, leaders in your local government hold immense responsibility for the welfare of your community. Yet, voter participation is limited. Take, for instance, the 2015 mayoral election in Dallas, Texas. Just 6% of eligible voters showed up at the polls. That’s millions of people who wasted the opportunity to make their lives better and easier.
Your local government will focus on immediate issues that will directly impact your life. Elected officials discuss and plan for the economy, infrastructure, public safety, local businesses, and even recycling. But, the responsibilities don’t stop there. Your next mayor can hike up your property taxes by an extra $10,000 a year. Wave goodbye to your next vacation. In fact, last April, the Metro Nashville Council in Tennessee approved a 34% increase in property tax (1). This tax would particularly affect homeowners and small business owners as they would need to pay much more for their property. On a more positive note, Mayor John Cooper announced that this tax would better fund public services such as law enforcement and public schools. Nevertheless, voting is the way to fight against those absurdly high property tax bills.
Let’s say that you pay rent, so property taxes don’t affect you as much. Still, local officials are in control of other important community factors. Back in February, New York City councilman Mark Treyger argued for free year-round subways and buses. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has nearly $180 billion dollars in its budget, and it amassed over $3 billion in subway and bus fares in 2019. Furthermore, Treyger demonstrated the unreasonable punishment of jail time for those unable to afford the cost of public transportation (2). In big cities like New York City, public transportation is a crucial aspect of almost everyone’s lives. Thus, local elections can literally transform your everyday life.
Personally, one of the greatest, most significant local issues is criminal justice reform. Especially considering the state of our country today, regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and law enforcement protests, our local officials have tremendous power. Whether you desire to defund the police or eliminate police brutality, your mayor is ultimately responsible. Thus, it is essential that you show up to polls and fight for improvement in your community.
So it’s clear that local elections play a big role in your daily life. But, does voting even make a difference? In the 2016 presidential election, one of the most common excuses from registered voters who did not vote was their belief that their vote would not matter. However, your vote may actually have a greater influence in local elections. The number of eligible voters within a community is much lower than the number for presidential elections. Furthermore, on average, just 1 out of 5 eligible voters partake in off-year local elections, meaning that your vote will weigh more than it will in a presidential election. Even if every single person shows up to vote, because of the fewer number of people in your community compared to the entire nation, your vote counts more. In other words, there is a greater chance your next officials will reflect your choice. And, with fewer people in the community, local officials will be more responsive to the people, which means that your wishes may be granted.
As a Democratic Republic, America permits its citizens to vote for the people that will run our country. While that’s true on a federal scale, there are more items on a local ballot. You can vote for specific cases as Californians did when they voted for or against Prop. 13 that allowed for higher property taxes if their home was in a school district (3). Imagine voting for a bill and having local officials act entirely based on what you checked off on your ballot. That happened in a 2014 general election in Columbus, Ohio. Here, seven local issues were decided by just one vote (4). Although such a case is rare, the result demonstrates the impact you have on your community. With having more influence and the ability to vote for specific issues, showing up to local election polls serve a win-win situation.
Local elections cannot be forgotten in the midst of the presidential elections. Local officials are the direct path to change in a community, whether the change is improvement or deterioration. The power of voting is undeniable, especially in a local sense. Do it for your neighbors, your community, and yourself.
Here’s a helpful resource that will guide you on your local elections based on your state: https://www.usa.gov/election-office