Why Vote in ’22?
With the onslaught of the election season bearing down on the country the refrain to make sure that one exercises the right to vote is everywhere! Each day our mailboxes, virtual and snail, are filled with political advertisements to the point where they are bursting at the seams. There are millions and millions of dollars being spent on promoting political candidates, judges, propositions, sheriffs and even water boards. Why? Because they all want our vote! If voting didn’t have such a significant impact on our system of government, then candidates and their backers wouldn’t spend the enormous sums of money on convincing us to vote in their favor.
“You’ve got to vote, vote, vote, vote. That’s it; that’s the way we move forward.”
~ Michelle Obama, attorney, author, and former First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017
So the question is not so much ‘Does our vote matter?’ (it does!), but rather ‘How can we leverage our vote for the greatest impact’? In the U.S. today voting levels surge to near record levels during a Presidential campaign year (2020 saw the highest voter turnout since 1900) and sag during the midterms. And local elections have often been an afterthought for most voters. Until a recent shift in alignment with statewide elections, local elections for city council and school board drew abysmal turnout levels. For example, in Pasadena, CA local election participation averaged between 15% to 20% of eligible voters. Fortunately, now that these plebiscites have been unified local races are seeing a huge spike in voter participation. And this is where the power truly lies.
“The vote is precious. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society, and we must use it.”
~ John Lewis, late civil rights activist and member of the US House of Representatives for Georgia
Who has more impact on your life, the President of the U.S. or your city’s mayor? Certainly the assumption is that the President is the most powerful elected official in the country, which in general terms is true. However, the people who have the greatest impact on one’s day-to-day experience are city council members, mayors, school board members and other local elected officials. And why is that? Through their budgetary and policy decisions they determine which roads will be repaired and when those repairs will begin; how the city will be zoned and developed; how many fire trucks or police officers the city will fund; where the parks will be constructed and how they will be maintained; how tall the buildings are in downtown; how high the sales tax will be in the city; where affordable housing is built; where you can walk your dog; where you store your trash cans; and many other relevant concerns.
“Our nation is asking to hear your voice because November is coming and so is your choice. Do not throw away your shot.”
~ Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer, actor, singer, playwright, and creator of Hamilton
With this backdrop in mind, one would really want to know who is representing us on their local city council. And would also want to have a hand in their selection. Generally the focus with our ballots, though, is on the big name selections and candidates. Who will be President, or Senator, or Governor? Less attention is paid to who will be your local school board or city council member. And yet, that is the most important reason why we should vote, i.e. to select who represents us on a body that makes decisions that affect our lives daily.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate
Down ballot is really where the action should be because these representatives are looking at issues of housing, public safety, transportation, education, energy usage, etc. on a micro level. It is not the federal government that structures and manages public transit in cities across the country. Federal funds often support those transit systems, but they are not governed by federal authorities. Likewise on public safety through police and fire departments, there are federal dollars for specialized public safety programs, but police officers and fire fighters are hired, trained and managed locally. The list of local control is long with street sweepers, trash collection, intersection signalization, recreation programs, park maintenance, public transit, etc. all being provided by city government in most cities around the country.
“Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.”
~ Susan B. Anthony, women’s rights activist during the suffragette movement in the early 20th century.
So ‘yes’, it is important to vote! It is one of the most important liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and one of the most significant responsibilities that we have in a democracy. And the place where we can have the greatest impact is at a local level. Meeting the candidates is also much more possible at a city level rather than state or national politics. And they all want to meet us because they want our vote. So the next time your neighbor invites you to attend a ‘meet and greet’ with a local candidate, take them up on it as that person might soon be making decisions for you and your community. Better to get to know them now rather than waiting until after they have been elected. You may not have that opportunity later on!
If you are eligible to vote in US elections and are living in Los Angeles county, you can register to vote or check your registration here.
If you are eligible to vote in US elections are are living outside of Los Angles county, you can register to vote or check your registration here.
Also, the League of Women Voters has created a site to help register to vote and learn more about the voting process here.
And finally, a classic video on the importance of voting from those at Rock the Vote!