Presidential elections occupy most of the media spotlight, and near-constant breaking news from the White House often crowds out other political affairs.
While the importance of participation in national elections cannot be understated, many changes that affect day-to-day life are closer to our backyards than the White House or the Capitol. This is why voting in local and state elections, which often fall on off years, is so important.
Local and state elected officials are the ones who determine the local laws, policies and budgets. They leverage your tax dollars and make allocation decisions that affect priorities in your community. States take care of infrastructure such as transportation and public schooling as well as social safety net programs and the judiciary. However, these decisions are often made with little citizen involvement. Low voter turnout is endemic to all elections in the U.S., but is especially prevalent at the state and local levels.
By voting in local and state elections and holding elected officials accountable, you can ensure that your state or local government leads the way when progress is slow at the federal level. There’s a reason why states and localities are often called “laboratories for democracy”: many landmark federal policies in areas such as environmental protection, minimum wage and marriage equality began at the state or local level and shaped the country from the ground up. Therefore, if you aren’t satisfied with decisions that your elected representatives at the federal level are making, it is critical that you vote for state legislators who will support policies that are important to you.
In addition, one vote is much more influential at the margin in a local or state election than a national election. Smaller elections are often decided by a far smaller number of votes; thus, political apathy and the attitude that “my voice doesn’t matter” is misguided. Furthermore, if large demographic groups refrain from voting, groups that do vote are allowed to commandeer local politics. Their interests may not align with the interests of the majority, but if they are the only voters, their interests are the interests of the state or locality in the elected officials’ eyes. Unless the active electorate is representative of the area as a whole, a socially optimal outcome will be difficult to achieve.
We, as the editors of the Old Gold & Black, urge all students, and the entirety of the Wake Forest community, to pay attention to and vote in state and local elections and understand that they are just as important as national elections.
The upcoming election for governor in Virginia on Nov. 7 is critical, but smaller elections that have not had as much media attention are of great importance as well. Take the time to ensure that you know the names of your state senator, delegate or representative, and city councilmen. If you are satisfied with their records, protect their progress by keeping them in office. If you are unsatisfied, you have the power to remove them from office and replace them with individuals who will promote your beliefs in your state or locality.