U.S. citizens are notorious for staying at home rather than heading to the polls, especially in local and state elections. According to ballotpedia.org, in the 2010 gubernatorial elections, there was a 47 percent voter turnout for Rick Scott. However, this is just the tip of a deeper problem found in the U.S., as the highly publicized presidential elections struggle to mobilize citizens. Americans have grown weary of the word “voting” as, year after year, they display more political apathy.
The truth is Americans are under the impression that voting for their executive is the most patriotic and democratic thing to do. However, when presidents fail to live up to campaign promises, a cloud of apathy falls over the population, as the belief that “my voice doesn’t matter” starts to replay itself in their minds. Statistics are painting a portrait of how Americans view the hierarchy of their government, and local elections are falling on the lower end of the totem pole.
Apparently, unbeknownst to most Americans, the actions of the president do not affect our everyday lives. The president is not constitutionally responsible for communities. Every day, states take care of amenities and infrastructure, such as transportation and public schooling; the people who are elected in local elections have more impact and influence over citizens’ everyday lives than one may think. These people are accountable for almost everything the state is responsible for; the state controls taxes, welfare and the judiciary. Once a state law does not contradict the federal constitution and is not an enumerated right of the federal government, the state can pass it. So the state mandates most of those laws that people are afraid to break.
Moreover, locally elected officials are supposed to be the perfect example of democracy. They act on citizen’s behalf and convey their issues to the federal branch of the government. Therefore, participating in local elections is supposed to be the most democratic aspect of American politics; these elected officials are supposed to represent citizens, but when citizens don’t vote, they create a disjoint between themselves and local politicians. They are the buffer between what citizens want and how to get what they want done, so not voting in local elections is not only undemocratic, but it is also counter-productive.
Furthermore, not voting in local elections allows for small groups whose interests may not align with the majority to commandeer local politics. Taken together, the smaller groups’ interests become the only interests of the state, and people who do not vote become marginalized in their own community.
It’s frightening to think that a state can pass laws and implement programs without the approval of the majority of its citizens. Even then, when a law is passed that citizens don’t like, they can still vote against it, which can be easily done at the local level. Yet Americans still refuse to participate in local elections. There’s no place where one’s voice can be heard more than in his or her own backyard, so bypassing local elections because one thinks his or her voice won’t be heard is probably one of the most illogical claims of the 21st century.
Participating in local politics is also the best way to become politically active. If more people participated in their local elections, then it’s probably more likely that they will want to participate in presidential elections, as well.
Those presidential candidates that citizens are vying for all started to make their way to the presidency from the local level. If they can understand the importance of local elections and the impact they can have on a community, then why can’t everyone else?
Changing America’s low voter turnout cannot start at the national level. Instead, it starts with voting for a mayor or voting in the next gubernatorial elections. One’s voice can be heard, and one still can make a difference, but it has to start where it matters most: at the local level.