BY MAISIE BLAUFUSS, STUDENT ADVOCACY FELLOW AT THE COLLEGE OF WILLIAM & MARY
Elections are my least favorite part of politics. That might sound strange for anyone who knows me, given that I have spent the last two years of my life entrenched in one campaign after another. But I think that elections distract from the actual “helping people” actions of government. Campaigns are loud, sidetracking away from substantive action. But… but… they are possibly the most important part of governing as well. Voting is how the majority of the American population participates in democracy, and the importance of that cannot be understated.
There are levels of government, and therefore subsequent levels to elections. Unfortunately, people subsequently participate in these elections at corresponding levels of activism and voting. Presidential campaigns start months, years before that Tuesday in November. They blanket the country, on television, radio, every form of media, bar talk, dinner time conversations. Senate, House of Representative, and many statewide elections are folded into this noise. It is well documented that people simply vote “down ticket” – choosing their presidential candidate and simply voting for everyone else of the same party.
But what does this do to local elections? To races for mayor, city council, school board?
The state of Virginia holds their statewide elections for legislature and governor in off years, and participation plummets. These elections have the possibility of actually electing individuals more connected to their constituents, and more representative of these populations. A presidential candidate cannot, and will never, represent the goals and interests of the American population. Right now, our President does not even represent the majority of the country. But a governor can be immensely powerful in advancing the goals and concerns of their state. A mayor is acutely connected to their city, and city council members even more so. These people represent their communities, but voters perpetually and consistently underestimate their importance. The budgets aren’t as big, the issues might not seem as pressing as international terrorism and tax reform. But these are the people who decide on road repairs, teacher pay, constructing new parks, traffic lights. Their decisions impact your life every day.
Elections are my least favorite part of politics. But they are also the part that I believe in the most. Because they have the most potential for substantive change, for positive forward momentum, from citizen action to cast a ballot to action from those individuals they elect. Those local and state representatives answer to you more directly than the President of the United States ever will. And voting for the person who most represents your interests and what you want for your home is the most important thing you can do for your community, and democracy. If you do not vote, in this election, in any election, you do not have the right to complain. Because you did not make your voice heard, in this easy, simple step towards a more perfect union.