When we think of politics, we think of politicians talking over each other, catchphrases swelling a mass of people to action, heated arguments over lukewarm dinners about the state of our nation. Rarely does the nitty-gritty of esoteric policy detail and drab local politics. Local/municipal elections, also known as down ballot elections, struggle with severe under-participation. According to the National Civil League, only 15-27% of American voters participate in down ballot elections, a low percentage in comparison to the 66.8% of Americans who voted in the 2020 presidential election. But local elections are often one of the most personal ways politics affects us, and they are just as much a part of the democratic process as Presidential elections
Why Exactly Are Local Elections Important?
Part of the reason local elections are so overlooked is simply because people often see who is being elected as far lower stakes. After all, a presidential election is about deciding on the president, the commander-in-chief who will be the face of the nation for the next four years. Even midterm elections - though they historically also struggle with voter turnout - have higher turnout than local elections because of the stake to vote for someone who represents your state on a national scale. And because these elections impact a larger number of people overall, they get more attention from mainstream media, compounding the amount of focus given to them over all.
But your town sheriff? Your city clerk? In comparison to Congress, these jobs seem to have a lower stake impact on you or the political landscape; after all, just how much could one county executive really do? But these local offices actually carry a lot of community power, and in fact, their policies can impact you more on a day to day basis than national politicians can. Some of the main roles voted in during local elections generally include:
School and School District Board
District Attorney (DA)
The reason the art class at your school got slashed? The local school board voted on it. Your chief of police is known for having overly harsh marijuana laws? The mayor appointed them, and your district attorney is prosecuting those cases. Roads in the lower income areas of your county are smaller, less paved, and have less sidewalks? City council decides how much money to spend on infrastructure, and where to distribute that money. If politics is the backbone of society, local politics are the backbone of everyday life. And without using the agency to decide what this backbone consists of, what we've seen is the same wealthy, home-owning, predominantly white citizens making these choices for us, creating discrimination and unfair policies in our neighborhoods.
Local politics can be a source of radical good if you push it there
In 2020, Ed Gonzalez, sheriff of Houston's Harris County went viral for using his power as sheriff to speak out against immigrant detention, gun violence, and unfair bail policy. Through his position he's been able to implement rehabilitation policies and jail reform. We've seen district attorneys states with strict abortion laws use their power to choose to not prosecute women for having abortions. Even when states choose not to uphold protections of marginalized people, local communities can fight back through who they elect to run their districts.
But in order to make a difference, you need to get out and vote. Pay attention to local news, and the local issues that your officials are dealing with. Your vote will make all the difference in local elections.