Local elections are vastly underrated since they often are characterized by low voter turnout and receive small amounts of media coverage. It is no surprise that fewer people show up to local elections than midterm or presidential, and this smaller turnout is becoming increasingly more concerning. Jan Brennan of the National Civic League states, “Not only is turnout for local elections low, but it is likely to be less representative of the income, age and ethnicity of the community… Recent research found that less representative elections contribute to poorer outcomes for minorities, including uneven prioritization of public spending.” What does this mean for a truly representative democracy? Clearly, low voter turnout poses a real threat, and therefore changes need to be made to address it. There needs to be an increase in time, money, energy, and attention to local politics.
So how do we increase voter turnout? According to Mike Maciag of Governing, “Of all proposals to boost voter turnout, moving the election date to coincide with state or federal elections has, by far, the greatest effect.” This may be due to the lack of suitable voting times for the vast majority of the community. What is most convenient for the individual? What incentives motivate people to vote when the timing of an election is inconvenient? These questions address the logistics of voting and point to things that can be easily fixed (like changing the time and day of an election).
However, even if there is a more convenient time for an individual to vote, are they going into the polls informed about each candidate and their platform? Ignorance is a pitfall of democracy. When people head to the polls they should know exactly who they are voting for and why. Tony Joy of CallHub states, “A study by CIRCLE, a Tufts University initiative found that around 20% of young people don’t think they know enough to be able to vote. It also found that the majority of the youth don’t believe voting can effectively change society.” This idea of voting without being properly educated adds an additional layer of concern for informed citizens. Young adults tend to vote less; if only they knew how much power and influence they had to affect their government, change could be achieved.
Some other ways to improve voter turnout are by participating in volunteer phone banking and canvassing or increasing the presence of the Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaign. As a student, phone banking and canvassing can be great ways to get involved in politics and increase general awareness in one’s community on local governance. Even though an individual may have wanted to vote in an election, it may just slip from their mind when the time actually comes to vote. This common occurrence is one reason that the GOTV campaign is crucial to gaining more voter participation. It reminds individuals of the time, day, location, etc. of the election and can answer any last-minute questions about certain candidates and their platforms.
What does this all mean for you and me? It means that as an individual we have the responsibility to educate ourselves on the communities we are a part of and do our part to make our voices heard. In this case, understanding candidates’ platforms and voting are crucial to governmental advancement. Representative democracy needs to represent the ideals of the people and if people are haphazardly casting their votes, it will not be a real form of representation. However, this burden of responsibility is not just on the individual; it needs to be addressed on a larger scale. A way to combat this lack of universally accessible information is to increase media presence in local elections. The greater awareness surrounding elections, the better.
As college students, we are at a unique point in our lives where we may not be able to vote in our current residence. However, that does not mean we still shouldn’t pay attention to local politics. So, what does the government in the Bronx look like and why should you care? The government consists of a borough president and district attorney. According to Ballotpedia, “The president is responsible for making budget recommendations to the mayor of New York, proposing legislation in the New York City Council, appointing borough representatives to commissions and boards, and holding public hearings on borough issues… The district attorney is responsible for prosecuting cases involving violations of state law.” Understanding the structure of our government allows for a better understanding of one’s individual rights and what role one has in affecting that government.
November 2, 2021, also known as Tuesday, is an election! If you aren’t registered to vote yet you can do so here. Every vote matters so make sure yours counts. Happy voting!