In the hubbub of election season, everyone pays attention to the presidential race, but only a few pay attention to anything otherwise. Some will pay attention to congressional and senatorial elections as well, but everyone is focused on the executive office. Meanwhile, elections at the state, county and city levels are largely ignored.
While millions of dollars are put into campaigns in making sure you know who can take positions in the national government, many are left in the dark when it comes to local elections. The lack of involvement in the 24/7 news cycle makes anyone who is interested in learning more about their local politicians have to take a step to do research. That research is well worth it.
The presidency does have a large impact on the direction of the nation, but that doesn’t always mean there will be a large impact on your life. Local politicians and local elections are a key part of understanding where you live and what the most relevant concerns for your city or town are.
For instance, the county school board has a large amount of sway over how the schools are funded and the policies that are put in place within them. As college students, this directly impacts the freshmen that we have coming in every year and every person that you may be sitting in class with.
Similarly, gubernatorial elections are important for state-level decisions. A direct example of this would be the implementation of HB2, a widely controversial piece of legislation drafted by the state legislation. The subsequent impact and controversy over this has had large impacts on how people live their day to day lives. All of this happened on the state level.
Often, people get angry with the government at large for taxation as well. While many will say the only things that are certain in life are death and taxes, those same people will often be irritated by them nonetheless. The most impactful decisions when it comes to taxes are arguably made at the state level, where income taxes are highly affected.
You really don’t need to look far to see the effect that local politicians have on their constituents. From impacting the police force, to trying to set an agenda for the whole city, there is a lot that can be done at the local level.
Getting involved often seems very hard, though. Without media messages being blasted at you constantly about the upcoming state senate elections, without all of your friends talking about the mayoral campaign, and without people asking you if you’re registered to vote in the election for sheriff, the realm of local politics can often seem mysterious.
All that engaging on this level takes is a modicum of effort, a google search at the very least. There are many websites that help to make things easy, such as the county board of elections websites, which give you pertinent information on who is currently elected and how long they will be in office.
From there, all you need to do is research: 1) who is currently in office and their stances, and 2) who will be running against them in the upcoming election. In most cases, you will be able to find the specific candidates’ platforms and judge them based on their stances on the issues that you find important.
As a college student—especially one pursuing a teaching licensure—issues relating to education are very important to me. As such, so is ensuring that the funding for any new policies to come into place is effective, so I will definitely want to pay attention to who gets to have any say in the budget.
If there is a piece of legislature that you find important, it needs facilitators, not only at the national level, but at the local level as well. The effects of taking place in local politics are felt much quicker than on the state or national level.
If you want more local businesses and less chains, vote. If you want labor changes, vote. If your marching band needs uniforms, vote. The politicians at the local level are both more in-tune to your needs and equipped to handle them. Vote for a mayor that wants to encourage local businesses popping up with subsidies and tax cuts. Vote for a commissioner of labor that wants to keep North Carolina incentivized for business. Vote for a school board chair that wants to fund the arts more.
The immediacy of the effects and the officials, make voting in local elections incredibly important. Not only that, but it can affect the politicians themselves more. While I may not have personal correspondence with the president, I may do so with the mayor, or the members of the school board.
Local elections are paramount to seeing policy carried out and changing our lives quicker than national elections. I would argue that they are possibly more important than national elections in regard to how my life is personally affected.
Being an educated voter is more than just knowing who you’re voting for in the national elections. Know who you’re voting for in state, county, and city elections as well. It is worth the effort.