Why You Should Care About Local Elections

General primary elections are being held in Illinois today, making this the perfect occasion to discuss our broken system of politics.

I don’t think there are many left in America who don’t think our political system could use some repairs. Commonly, people point to those in power, those corrupt politicians, as those at fault. This is too easy of an answer, in my opinion. I think the true problem is more systemic and related to the will of the people.

The largest voter turnout is during presidential elections. Even then, it’s rare for more than 50% of the voting-age public to perform their civic duty. When it comes to smaller, local elections, the voter turnout is even more bleak. Given the corruption we often see in politics, it’s no wonder people have thrown in the towel. They feel like their vote doesn’t matter. When they look at the people up for election, they find themselves dismayed.

I took this photo when President Barack Obama came to the University of Iowa.
I took this photo when President Barack Obama came to the University of Iowa.

I remember the 2008 elections. Since middle school, I had been beyond exciting to vote. Finally, my time was here! I watch the debated and researched the candidates as much as possible. As election day neared, I found my enthusiasm waning. The presidential candidate pool had been narrowed down to John McCain and Barack Obama, neither of whom I was very excited about. My disposition stood out among my peers. Anyone my age who was politically inclined seemed to think Obama could solve all our problems, my roommate especially. John McCain left me equally dismayed. Since I didn’t completely agree with either on major issues, it ended up being their rhetoric on a few smaller issues that decided my vote.

How on earth did we end up with such craptastic candidates? I’m sure they thought they had a good plan for the country, but I had my doubt either one knew anything about the ‘average American.’ How did we even end up with these candidates in the first place?

That is the all-important question. How do national politicians make it to Washington D.C.? Remember those tiny, local elections with pitiful voter turn-outs? Most, if not all, national politicians got their start at the local and state level. What happens when these local politicians are voted into office by a small fraction of their public? Just to throw a number out there, let’s a 30% of the voter-aged public votes for mayor. What happens? The mayoral candidate only has to satisfy the needs and desires of those 30% in order to win. The candidate does not have to give a damn about the other 70%, even though his or her decisions will affect them as well.

As far as I’m concerned, this is where the problems with politics start. Imagine if we at least had 50% of the voter-aged public participate in local elections. Suddenly, that candidate has to meet the needs and demands of more people. If this happened all over the United States for every local election, the face of every national election would change.

I argue that, in most townships, the mayoral candidates are repetitively pure of political corruption. Most probably run for the first time with dreams of making their community better in some way. As time progresses, they realize they only have to appease a minority to keep their job. If one of their grand dreams for benefiting their community is supported by the 70% but not the 30%, they drop it in favor of being reelected. Thus the path of corruption begins.

Are we really surprised when national politicians favor the needs of corporations over those of the people? How do you think they got their job in the first place? It’s easy for a politician to work for a corporation when the public has turned a blind eye. I’d be surprised if any national politician is truly working for the people. How could they when working for the people is not the factor that got them elected time and time again?

I admit, I don’t know a whole lot about local elections. Today is the day of the Illinois General Primary, but when I Googled that, all I found were definitions for ‘general election’ and ‘primary election.’ I probably don’t know much about the election I will be participating in today. In the end, my tiny voice probably won’t mean much. Still, I will go. I will go and I will tell all I can that I am going to vote in the hope that they will too.

If we created a demand for more information on these elections, more information would be come available. If more people voted – if we all voted – these local politicians would have to satisfy us in order to earn their job. I imagine, if enough people voted for local elections, that a lot of the corruption would slowly make its way out of government. It might take a few decades, but I can see it happening. Unfortunately, that process can’t start until more people start to care about local elections. I encourage you all to look up when your local elections are and whose running. The person you vote for might go on to become president of the United States someday. Make sure you choose wisely.

P.S. Don’t even get me started on the Electoral College. That’s a blog for another day. 


16 thoughts on “Why You Should Care About Local Elections”

  1. I agree that we should all get out and vote. Inform ourselves first. Sadly, few do either. Politics has a very bad name.

    I supported BHO in ’08 and very actively in ’12. I was a local team leader for OFA in Coralville. When he came to town in early ’12, I was one of 25 who were selected to meet him in a private room backstage before his speech on campus at UI. I cherish my photo with him.

    He hasn’t lived up to the ideals many felt for him. That’s partly our fault for idolizing him. And, partly the fault of a broken congress. Those are topics for much discussion in other blog posts.

    Thanks for your post today.

    1. I was a student at the University of Iowa from ’08 to ’12 and I remember him being there as well. This photo is from the event you had to win tickets to and I was so excited to go. All opinions aside, it’s not every day you get to see the U.S. president in person.

      He ended up winning my vote twice, but it wasn’t really because I liked him. It was because I thought he wouldn’t be as bad as the other guy. While I didn’t agree with everything going into the ACA, I thought it was a good start. I have recently become more disenchanted with the law given the changes to existing health care plans.

      I’ve heard the average American is likely fiscally conservative and socially liberal. I think a lot of people vote based on which of those sides they think is most important. For me, social issues will always be my trump card.

  2. In some sense I do believe in being politically informed, on the other I generally tend to vote independent because I don’t agree with either of the two “main” candidates. And that right there is where the problem begins for me as well, ultimately it boils down to a small menu of items which I define as mass media consumption, and the two party system. First off lets face it the “average” American doesn’t do research on the candidates, they let whichever their preferred news channel is tell them why this candidate is good and the other one is bad. While I realize the importance of media presence within a modern democratic (I use that term loosely) system within the US, a news media outlet should report the facts not influence peoples opinion by spoon feeding it to them. That goes for all the stations whether they are on the right like FOX, or on the left like MSNBC it’s a politically motivated agenda which a) has no place within the “reporting of news” and b) the “average” viewer is obviously to lazy to get out there and look things up themselves, better to have someone think for you.

    Secondly the two party system is completely broken, sure you can tell me all about the “tea party” the center left, the center right blah blah blah blah what it all boils down to is that there will be two candidates, a Republican and a Democrat neither of which will be a great choice. Candidate A will wind the election and for the next four years we get to hear how he is screwing everything up, and so on. The next election comes around and people say “oh we elected a Democrat / Republican last time, and look how they messed everything up. I know! We will elect a Republican / Democrat this time and then everything will be better.” New candidate gets into office, and four more years of the same thing getting to hear about how this party, or that party is messing everything up “and their taking away my rights!” The next election comes around and people say “oh we elected a Democrat / Republican last time, and look how they messed everything up. I know! We will elect a Republican / Democrat this time and then everything will be better.” Round and round the merry-go-round, I know it sounds cynical but this is just the way it is, probably why I vote independent. At least I can say I voted, and exercised my right as a citizen (which I earned thank you very much, US armed forces), but I know it’s not going to make a difference. So who wants to bet the next one in office will be a Republican? As long as they find someone who doesn’t sound as crazy as old Mitt, let’s face it they weren’t exactly putting forward any award winners the last time around, don’t misunderstand me the current guy isn’t a savior either. Politicians are politicians they lie, cheat, and steal to get the power it’s a brave new world, or at least it had better be.

    1. What you say is true. The biggest lie in America is the idea that the Republicans and Democrats are dramatically different. When in presidential office, they all do the same thing. I’d give anything for a Libertarian or a member of the Green Party to get enough backing to contend with the big guys.

      I argue, though, that everything you say is true on a national level. When you vote for your local mayor, their only concern is for the people in that town. If only 30% of the people in that town vote, their concern is for only 30% of the town. That leaves them open to corruption and skews the way they vote and make laws. Why should they give a damn about 100% of the city if they can keep their job by satisfying the 30% minority?

      Now, let’s say 80% of people vote for mayor. Just like that, a person must satisfy and connect with a majority of the public in order to hold their job. Perhaps they peruse a place in the state congress after a few years. If 80% of the state turned out to vote, this person would then have to connect with the majority of the state in order to get the job. Businesses and corporation could do whatever they wanted, but the only way the job would be earned is through gaining most of the vote from that 80%. Now, this person wants to run for U.S. representative. The same formula applies. One they get to the point where they are running for president of the United States, they are used to catering to the people, not to corporations.

      All it would take is for most of the people who are able to vote to go out and perform their civic duty.

  3. This is so important. Too many people don’t realize that it’s almost a waste of time to vote for the President if you don’t also vote for people who will support the President. Not to mention voting for people who happen real impacts on our lives, locally.

    1. I know! People wonder why our choices for president are so poor. They got there somehow. Maybe the reason they can’t connect with the average American is because the average American didn’t take part in voting them into all their previous offices. They got into their career by catering to a minority of the public and businesses who put money in their pockets. They’re not going to change that formula for a national election where most of the population still won’t bother to vote. The whole political system would see a dramatic change if only people bothered to vote in local elections.

  4. I think you nailed it when you pointed out that the politicians are out of touch with the average American. That’s been my beef for a long time; they are too disconnected from our lives and so both liberals and conservatives craft laws that simply don’t help us 😦 its like Jeff the owner of Filter; neither the republicans or the democrats are helping him out at all. He could use a law to prevent rent from going up but unfortunately nobody is going to pass a law like that and so little businesses like his get pushed out for the big box stores.

    1. The question here becomes, does Jeff vote? Can he really complain when politicians don’t understand his struggles if he never even trying to get their attention. I don’t know if he votes or not, but I bet there are plenty in his situation who don’t. Just like I said to BroadBlogs, if politicians can get their job by catering to a minority of the population and corporations, how can we be surprised when they appear disconnected from the majority?

  5. You have a fair point, and I will take it a bit further. The reason so many politicians cater to minority is because they generally vote, especially at the lower income brackets (no not a race issue, an income issue), and in general the population would only turn out if their lifestyle or money were to be affected.

    As far as corporations go well that’s simple enough, money. Whether running for the local ombudsman spot, or the seat in the Whitehouse every American has the right to seek office. That’s great, however lets face it without money (alot of money) you will not get anywhere it’s just that simple. And unfortunately most corporations or donors do not hand out the greenbacks for free, thus in the end they end up having earned “favors” from the candidate. Whenever I think about the electoral process I can’t help but think that lobbying, as well as campaign funding should be removed, let someone run on the strength of their platform, not on whether they can get people to give them money.

    1. I understand how corporations work. My boyfriend’s brother is a lawyer. His vote today was based on the fact that he was friends with someone who knew the candidate he voted for. He thought he might earn some career advancement from that connection if the person he voted for won. You can’t fault him for voting that way.

      I have a probably with lobbiest at the national level, but at the local level, not so much. This is for the same reasons I have been listing. Let’s say, for example, Crazy Tobacco Company wants cigarettes to be legal in all public places. They are willing to give a ton of money to whoever will do this. However, 80% of the public is expected to vote, most of which oppose smoking in public places. The company could throw all the money at the candidate that they want. it will all be for naught without the public’s support. The way I see it, if most of the public voted during local elections, corporate funds wouldn’t matter.

      I wish I knew the laws surrounding corporate contributions to political races. Long story short, I think even the corporate dollar could be defeated if only a majority of the voting-aged public did their civic duty.

  6. I agree with the spirit of your post, but I wanted to raise some questions concerning population sizes from a statistical point of view. When you say that a mayor realizes he only has to satisfy 30% of he population (or whatever percentage of people turns out to vote) this is not strictly true. In actuality a population can be represented within about 90% accuracy by only 30 people voting, if that sample is truly random. It’s unlikely that this is the case, but what’s relevant is looking at the breakdown of those people who actually do vote to see whether it is representative of what makes up the population. It has been fairly well established that primaries often bring out people with the more extreme views on both the right and the left. But I suspect that there are a number of people who feel a strong sense of civic duty and like yourself understand the importance of local elections and are educated about the issues. So while it’s likely a smaller number of people like you at the polls it’s probably a pretty good representation (in terms of percentage of total voters at the polls) of independents or moderates. Just like those who are voting democratic and republican are also a pretty good representation by percentage of those who would vote republican or democratic at the national level. What’s more of a concern to me is how well informed those voters are going to the polls. Whatever percentage of those that actually do vote, a large majority of them are simply not educated about the issues. Those that are extreme on either side, use more belief based thinking to make their decision. Or they vote democratic or republican because their parents did. Many voters vote against their own self-interest simply because they buy into the rhetoric spewed forth by the media and politicians.

    What I think is also important to consider is how often companies allow workers to take time off to vote in local elections. In addition many people simply are in a dire enough financial situation that taking time off work is not an option. Voting is important, but for much of the population of the U.S. now that lives in poverty, what is urgent often takes precedent over what’s important. This is one of the psychological impacts of being poor. You sacrifice long term benefits for what seems to be urgent such as making enough money to pay your bills at the end of the month.

    It seems also that at local levels one is more likely to have minorities, women, homosexuals, and independents win elections and thus in some ways indicating that at the local level that voters look past party lines a lot more in favor of candidates who they think can get things done. Perhaps it’s because there is less negative commercials and media spin on local elections. Not sure.

    Anyway, just a few thoughts. 🙂

    1. I know too many people who just vote for the D or the R and never give a thought to the actual people they are voting for. Sometimes, primaries are set up in a way where candidates have to satisfy the extremist in order to win. In Iowa, you have to be a registered Republican to vote in the Republican primary and Democrat to vote in their primary. If you are registered as something other than those two parties, you cannot participate in the primary. The system is set up to choose the most extreme people on either side and then force them to appear moderate to win in the official election.

      I agree with what you say about the 30% but, as you point out, it is unlikely they are representative of the whole. Some companies can give employees time to vote. I imagine other companies who know their employees don’t support their views would also make their employees work during voting hours just so they can’t vote.

      1. I don’t know too many like that either, but that’s because I tend to surround myself with people who are thinkers, but it’s actually quite common. In this country anyway the political leanings on both sides tend to be more belief based than a specific evaluation of the candidate’s views on issues. Although that has actually been on the rise in recent years as parties have run on more extreme platforms and this has caused an increased in the number of moderates…but the number of moderates still only includes at best about 30% of the voting populations…so that means 70% of voters vote along party lines first, before taking a look at the specific issues. To me that’s troubling.

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