Voting for mayor is more important than voting for president
© Getty Images

Voting for the president is often the first thing that comes to mind when most of us think of taking political action. While it’s true that voting for the highest office is important, the changes that most affect our day-to-day lives are often closer to our backyards than to Washington. I’m talking about local elections.

While the presidential campaigns get most of the media spotlight, the president doesn’t have as much of a direct impact on the lives of citizens as you might think. Our local elected officials are the ones who dictate the local laws, policies and budgets that affect us the most, and these officials are being elected every year with little citizen involvement.

ADVERTISEMENT
If you’ve spent most of your time focusing on national politics, you’re not alone. But here are the top reasons voting for mayor, and your other local representatives, could mean the difference between creating the change you want to see or keeping with the status quo:

Your voice, represented

While voters may care about the issues, especially national ones, participation in local voting continues to decline. In 2011, less than 21 percent of cities' voting-age population cast ballots, compared to an average of 26.6 percent in 2001.

While frustration with national voting reaches a peak, it’s local elections that give voters the greatest opportunity to have their voices heard. With such low polling numbers across various states, increasing voting in local elections can be a game-changer.

Generally, before a law is passed it must be voted on at your state Senate and state House of Representatives before your governor decides to approve it, veto it or allow it to pass into law. This makes it extremely important to consider and vote for who your local elected officials will be, so that they will vote on your side.

Our local officials are elected to represent the majority, and when a large fraction of the electorate fails to vote, bias can be prevalent. Increases in voter turn out at a local level can improve minority representation in city councils and the passing of laws that are more reflective of how citizens feel.

Local changes have the greatest everyday impact

You can hardly go two minutes without hearing about the importance of voting for president, and how much your voice matters, but less attention is given to the impact of local politics. Local politics influence all of the decisions that have a direct influence on our day-to-day lives, from the laws we’re most worried about abiding by, to the streets we drive on and whether or not they’re riddled with potholes, to whether or not we’ll have to pay for plastic bags at the grocery store, and more.

Our local public servants leverage our property tax dollars to make big budgetary decisions that influence our local communities, from education reforms to welfare and more. They’re heavily involved in helping voters pass bills that often take precedence over national law.

One of the most prominent, recent examples of states dissenting from national law occurred when voters in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and California made the use of marijuana legal, either medically and/or recreational. This reform, decided by local voters, had enormous local impacts in each state that created long-lasting effects on their economies, legal systems and more.

Policing the police

Our local elected officials decide how our public safety is managed, how our police officers are trained and how they themselves are policed. Use of lethal force and the Black Lives Matter movement have garnered considerable national attention over the past year. And while this is a national issue, national discussion has little direct influence over how our local communities will look for preventative solutions to reduce these incidents and how they will react in a way that benefits the community when incidents to occur.

Outrage ensued after officials in Charlotte, N.C., refused to release police body cam and dash cam footage related to the fatal encounter of Keith Scott, raising questions about the state’s policy regarding the handling of police video — a policy that will get narrower now that a new state law went into effect Oct. 1.

These smaller — but still very necessary — battles are being fought at a state level, and when local citizens don’t take action to make their voices heard, the interests of the majority cannot be met.  

Local politics help shape federal policy

While the federal government has the ability to nullify any state laws that they disagree with and deem unconstitutional, they also choose their battles. If they don’t see a law as worth the legal fight, they’ll often step back to see how a new law plays out at a state level.

As states debate the issues and reshape their laws, our nation may follow in implementing similar reforms over time. By electing local officials who support the causes you believe in, you can be part of making a change at a local level that could eventually catch on as federal law. And in the meantime, you’ll be happy with the laws your state has incorporated.

Getting involved

Too often, voting is seen as something that occurs once every four years — and that needs to change. Local elections are taking place every year and their implications are long lasting.

To have a greater influence over laws in your state, start by staying informed on local issues so you can use facts to define your stance before you vote. Apps, like Hear My Voice, can help you keep up with the issues that matter to you the most, showing you both sides of each issue to help you make an informed decision, and giving you outlets to reach your local officials.

To stay informed on local elections, you can check here for important dates by state.

Becky Kip is the founder and CEO of Hear My Voice, a mobile-first civic engagement platform. She was formerly an advertising executive for Pandora Radio and CBS Television. Her media campaigns have targeted human trafficking, anti-drug and child adoption awareness. Now she is tackling the voter turnout crisis with Hear My Voice.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.