Have you got the election blues? Does it sometimes feel like your vote “doesn’t count” or “won’t make a difference”?
Does voting sometimes feel like this?
Intellectually, we know our democracy functions at its best when we all vote every time, but Americans still often skip out on elections we consider less important than high-profile ones. In fact, turnout for local elections is abysmally low and dropping. In some cities, as few 1 in 5 eligible voters participate.
But the truth is, as people with a hateproof mindset, who care and want lasting change, we should be flipping our priorities. Local elections often matter more than national ones.
This might sound counter-intuitive at first, but here are some key ideas to consider (and spread) as we go into election season. So tell a friend, share, and encourage as many people as possible to vote, especially locally.
The democratic system depends on high participation to accurately represent citizens’ views. Low voter turnout results in biased outcomes, where the more motivated (and typically more extreme) voters can easily dominate the outcome. If only 1 in 5 eligible voters actually cast a ballot, it only takes 10% support to win a majority. Doesn’t much sound like democracy, does it?
There are far more centrist voters than extremists, but if we don’t show up at the polls, the more extreme candidates will keep disproportionately winning elections and dictating the direction of the country.
Despite the daily cesspool of news about the latest presidential drama, the truth is the federal executive has a far lesser impact on our lives than local government does. Overwhelmingly, city & state governments are the ones that manage our infrastructure, public safety, public education, welfare, judiciary system, environmental policies, and on and on...
Don’t believe the hype: it isn’t all taking place in the White House. The greatest changes to our society are starting right here in our backyards.
Casting a ballot for local candidates also encourages a greater variety of voices to enter the political arena. Most politicians get their feet wet locally, gradually rising to national prominence over the course of their career. You can’t say Bush without thinking of Texas. Obama? Chicago. There’s always an origin story to be found, and it was local elections that first brought these voices to governance.
Furthermore, as we diversify as a nation, we'll naturally see a similar change in the lineup of local candidates. Never before have we seen such a beautiful variety of names, ethnicities, and sexes on the ballot. Nothing could be more hateproof than that. Voting locally empowers people from all backgrounds to run for office. And at the local level, they have one enormous advantage...
In the age of soundbites, hot-button issues are driving voters & politicians alike toward extremes, where one or two topics can monopolize a whole campaign. Fortunately, local politicians aren’t in that same boat.
Unlike their counterparts at the federal level, local politicians can present a more nuanced view of the world. Their rhetoric doesn’t have to be black or white, where painful oversimplifications ruin our public discourse. Instead, they have more leeway to explore the gray area, the subtleties, the intelligent questions which need answers… all without being in the harsh crosshairs of increasingly partisan national media.
Consider how the left is generally associated with being socially liberal, and the right with being fiscally conservative. On the national stage, those two have been oversimplified and forced further and further apart. Any crossover or muddied waters are now swiftly punished in election season.
But locally you can find candidates who express their openness to social progress, while aiming to stay fiscally responsible for example. That seeming clash of policies would be political suicide at the national level.
Similarly, local elections open the floor to third parties, such as Libertarian or Green, which have been all but excluded from the national conversation. Their platforms have innovative ideas to offer but those concepts will remain beyond reach until they can get a seat at the table. So if as a voter you believe in X from the left, Y from the right, and Z from the center, local elections are your chance influence the conversation at the national level.
If you’re reading this, you probably already feel the world needs change. But instead of focusing on the high-stakes national circus, we can judiciously increase pressure at the local level. As local dissent grows, more and more states join the fray on a given issue, and eventually the national conversation must take place.
For example, rather than some national panacea, changing law enforcement procedures at city & state levels will likely have a greater impact on police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. Over time, local policies become more widespread – as we’re now seeing with the legalization of marijuana – and they eventually trickle up to the national conversation.
Voting locally just might be our single greatest responsibility as citizens, as well as the most direct influence we have over the future.
In short, it improves the health of our democracy, directly affects our daily lives, increases diversity, decreases partisanship, and brings new voices and solutions to the national conversation. So don’t let the election blues get you down: for one vote, that’s a hell of a return on investment.
Think global, vote local.