It doesn’t matter when you’re reading this; there may or may not be a local election day coming up in your area. At the time of this writing, there are elections in some areas coming up in a few days, but not in others. Then there will be elections in some areas a few weeks after that. Then there will be more elections in still other places about a month from now.
But even if you’re reading this on the other side of the calendar from us, there may be a municipal poll coming up that you didn’t even know about.
One reason why voter turnout is so low in local elections is because elections are spread out all over the place. Some argue this is a deliberate tactic to discourage certain people from voting, others say it’s a well-intentioned mistake trying to give local elections their own spotlight, but everyone can agree it’s massively inconvenient. It’s also another thing you need to add to your busy day… assuming you even remember there’s an election happening.
But there are good reasons to make the effort and vote anyway. If you’re old enough to vote, we’d bet you’ve already heard “vote because our democracy depends on your involvement!” enough times for one lifetime – and it’s not that the sentiment is wrong, it’s just so cliché at this point. We have more reasons to vote than just that.
Your Voice Is Louder
From your perspective, there is one very good thing about the low turnout in city, county, and state elections: fewer people voting means your vote counts more. So many people are so cynical about voting because they think their one vote won’t make a difference. The smaller the scale, however, the more effect one person can have on a decision.
Do yourself a favor: Google “election decided by one vote” and see what comes up. You’ll find listicle websites and Wikipedia ledgers before you find specific examples because there are so many instances of ballots coming down to just a few dozen votes (or less) that there are literally too many to name. These instances are almost invariably on a subnational level. Want to make a difference in an election? Here’s your opportunity. Go for it.
It’s a Free-for-All
This is another thing that scares people away from voting locally when it could be bringing more people in: local elections aren’t nearly as red-vs.-blue as a national election.
These elections are almost never just one Democrat and one Republican. There are often multiple candidates from the same party, as well as many third-party people and independents who – if you can believe it – actually have a fighting chance to win. You probably won’t have to worry about your preferred party narrowing down your options to only one person they like – heck, you might even discover someone on the other side who you like.
And if you don’t have a side? If you hate party politics, good news: many municipalities don’t let their public servants run under the banner of a party, and some even prevent them from being members of a party altogether. If you don’t like how national elections always seem to be a contest to seek the lesser of two evils, you may find local politics oddly refreshing.
It Really Does Matter
This is by far the biggest thing: local elections will impact your daily life quantifiably more than a national election will.
Think of it this way: why would different towns and cities need to stay separate if they all had the same way of doing things? Your municipal and county elections won’t just decide who runs things; they’ll decide what rules they’ll run them under.
Local elections decide things like city ordinances and zoning laws. They decide property and sales taxes. They decide special laws and liberties. They decide whether the city builds that school next to the freeway or if they build that casino next to the old chemical plant.
Your local elections dictate what your city or town, your county and your state do that make it a better place to live than its neighbors – and they try to make it better according to the will of its citizens. It’s kind of like when a market research firm offers to give you a gift card in exchange for taking a survey: the people asking genuinely want your opinion so they can make their product the best it can be according to your idea of good, and you get rewarded for it anyway.
We can all try to be worldly, but at the end of the day, we all come back to the place we call home. These local elections guide the policy that decides what life back home is like. Don’t miss your chance to have a say in it.
Because You Can
Like we said earlier, the whole “vote because democracy depends on it” thing may be a bit overbearing, but it has the right idea.
The United States exists because some people decided they wanted to choose for themselves how things were run in their own neck of the woods and not have it dictated by some people far away. Then they installed a system of government where the average people got to make decisions and not just kings and barons (granted, it took awhile to get all the average people involved, and we’re still working out the kinks, but it’s still a much better system than the old way).
We’re not going to tell you that you must vote, because freedom means being at liberty to abstain from voting without consequence if you don’t want to. But consider this: most people in world history never had the right to vote, and many still don’t around the world today. If they could see what the modern America was like, they might be confused by why so many who had the ability to vote simply chose not to exercise their rights.
If you don’t feel sufficiently informed, or if you can’t get off work (which might mean your employer is breaking the law in some states?), or if you just really, really don’t care, then fine, we’ll let you off the hook. But we still think that you should vote if you can, just because.