OPINION | This election season, don’t forget about your local politicians

Apoorva Verghese, Intersections Editor

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Emma Vaughters

Every four years when the presidential election rolls around, the entire country goes through the same cycle. People flock to social media to encourage others to vote, informing their friends and families about as many issues as possible, while candidates hit the campaign trail filled with promises of change. 

I’m always heartened to see people so adamantly encouraging others to vote, but outside of presidential election years, I rarely witness this. I’m not talking about abstaining from voting for senators or house representatives. Rather, I’m talking about our local elections. The percentage of people who vote in U.S. presidential elections is about 60%. That percentage falls significantly in local elections, where only about 15% to 27% of people vote. These elections decide our judges, mayors and city council members, people who are rarely paid attention to but wield important power in our society.

It’s not uncommon for people to fall under the misconception that local elections aren’t relevant to implementing change. It’s actually somewhat understandable. After all, compared to the president of one of the most powerful countries in the world, what power does the mayor of a city have? The truth, however, isn’t that simple. Politicians like the president may have the ability to work with legislation affecting more people, but our lives are definitely more affected by the actions of our local politicians. 

We don’t have to look much further than the COVID-19 pandemic as proof of the power local politicians have. Especially when we consider the lack of action at the federal level, mayors of cities across the country shaped the state of public health this year, as they worked to implement business regulations, disseminate information and handle school closings and reopenings. 

The power that local politicians hold is entirely different from the power that national representatives hold. That power is especially important when it comes to uplifting marginalized communities. 

Take judges for example, hundreds of whom are up for election this year. In 39 states, judges are elected, and though the selection process is often criticized, it doesn’t change the power judges have. Judges have the power to imprison, to make decisions in custody cases and rule in various other forms of civil disputes. Our current judicial system, however, is deeply discriminatory. Black people are more likely to be arrested and convicted of crimes than white Americans. 

The judiciary as it stands is flawed for several reasons, but it’s also crucial to note that if people aren’t actually voting in judicial elections, judges are not going to be representative of the people they serve.

Beyond that, local politicians have the power to contribute to programs combating climate change, the effects of which disproportionately affect people of color. They have the power to determine educational policies, which can work to empower marginalized communities who have had unequal access to education

Uplifting marginalized communities starts at home, including ensuring that our local politicians are working for change. 

If we want true change in our society, we need to recognize the importance of voting not just at a national level, but at a local level, too. So, of course, go vote for our next president in November, but don’t let the momentum die out just yet.