The importance of local politics cannot be overstated. Local politics impacts much of our daily lives, and it is a political space that is particularly open to citizen input. Local politics is where decisions about local services (ex. police, transportation, water) are made, and it is in local politics that our voice can be heard in some really unique ways. The availability of local level politicians, and the accessibility of local level political meetings such as City Council meetings mean that we regularly get chances to participate meaningfully in the local political process. During election years, our participation can take the additional form of voting for the retention or replacement of our elected officials who are on the ballot.
Yet it is precisely in local elections – where we can more easily share our voice about the policies and politics which most impact our daily lives – that voter turnout is often the lowest. When these numbers are compared against state-level elections they look especially dismal. For example, the Who Votes for Mayor Study (www.whovotesformayor.com) has found that less than 20 percent of voters in cities included in the study actually vote in local elections.
One reason people don’t vote in local elections is they can forget when polling dates. Our television shows are not being inundated with commercials during local elections the way they are with state or presidential elections. While those commercials can be overwhelming, they serve to remind voters that an election is coming up. Newberry has sought to address this challenge by widely publicizing Tuesday’s elections. Each of us individually can help by reminding our friends and family about Tuesday’s election!
The bigger challenge is the sentiment that “my voice doesn’t matter.” Your voice matters in every election. That said, your voice especially matters in local elections because voter turnout is often so low, and because it is the political arena that most impacts you. This means that a disproportionately small number of voters get to determine the outcome of the election that most impacts the services and policies we utilize or encounter every day. Not only does your voice matter in local politics, but your vote matters. In the worst-case scenario of low voter turnout, this means that your vote is amplified. In the best-case scenario of vibrant voter turnout, it means that you get to be part of a political community that comes together democratically to determine the community’s future.
On September 11 polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. You can verify your registration at www.SCVotes.org. If you have other questions that aren’t answered on the SC Votes web page, call the helpful staff of the Newberry County Voter Registration and Elections office at 803-321-2121.
Making a difference starts locally with you. The Newberry local elections on Tuesday, September 11 are a meaningful – and very influential – way to participate in the democratic process. You can fulfill your civic responsibility while spending time, even if it is just the brief time it takes to vote, with other community members committed to democracy in Newberry. I’m looking forward to spending a portion of my day with my fellow Newberrians on Tuesday while we vote on Newberry’s future, and I hope you are too!
Dr. Laura Roost is an assistant professor of political science and Political Science Program Coordinator Newberry College.