If you spend any time watching (or reading) the news, you will quickly realize that national politics and politicians get the lion's share of television, online, and printed attention. The seemingly large decisions coming out of Washington get constant coverage by the media. This coverage has made our national politicians household names all across the country.
While it is good to know what is happening on Capitol Hill, the truth is that these decisions affect our daily lives much less than the decisions made at your very own City Hall. Or even closer to home, your local school board. The constant coverage of Washington and the celebrity status of the politicians there can blow the importance of their actions out of proportion. This skewed view of the different levels of government causes a vast difference in the number of voters who show up for the different elections.
A Pew research study performed in 2018 found that 65% of registered voters believed it “really matters” which party has a majority in Congress, and 60% said they would definitely vote in the primary. Comparing this to the number of ballots cast in local elections shows that voters weigh national politics much heavier than local. A study from whovotesformayor.org, probing at mayoral elections in 50 cities across the US found that average voter turnout was less than 27%. Another study found that less than 15% voted in municipal elections, and between 5% and 10% in local school board elections. To help put things in perspective, here are some reasons why we should place more value on local elections.
1. Because there are fewer ballots cast in local elections, your vote carries much more weight
In the 2020 presidential election, almost 160 million votes were cast. This means that each voter’s ballot accounted for 0.00000062% of the total vote. Naturally, as you move down the ballot to smaller elections, each vote becomes much more influential. There were a little less than 37 million voters in the Democratic primary for the 2020 presidential candidate, meaning that each vote was 0.0000027% of the total (almost 4.5 times the weight of each general election vote). Compare these numbers to the 5,739 votes that decided one Omaha school board election. Each of these votes represented 0.017% - more than 6,400 times the weight of a 2020 Democratic presidential primary vote.
2. Local officials are easily accessible
Our government was originally set up to preserve citizens’ freedom and influence on the way the country operates. And while it has become incredibly difficult to reach our representatives in Washington, anyone can easily meet the members of their local school board or city council. The ability to speak to these officials gives us the opportunity to share our values and concerns with those in authority.
3. The decisions made at the local level will have much greater impact on everyday life.
Just in the last few weeks, Douglas County residents received postcards notifying them of the upcoming vote by the local government to raise property taxes. The increases, of course, vary based on the value of the property, but some homeowners could be paying thousands of dollars more in property taxes next year. Despite the news coverage disparity, very few decisions made at the national level can have that much effect on your wallet next year.
At the same time, your district’s school board is making decisions that can shape the way your child sees the world. These local officials have authority on decisions such as how reading, math, and history are fundamentally taught, what books children learn from, and religious freedom/freedom of speech in the classroom. The impact of these decisions is immeasurable, and far beyond the scope of the federal government’s authority over education.
This should give us hope for the future
Regardless of party affiliation, very few people are happy with the way our country is currently operating at the national level. However, because the more impactful decisions are made at the local levels, and because we can have greater influence on these decisions, we can be hopeful for the future. Voter Information Project encourages everyone to be informed about the way our government operates and to get to know local officials in order to have more input on the decisions that are being made.
research and writing provided by Stephen Fox