Today arrived without the fanfare of last November. We didn’t see the deluge of commercials or the endless seas of money being pumped in by PACs.
That doesn’t mean this election is less important.
Local elections have immediate effects, immediate results for people. When Congress passes a bill (they still do occasionally) it may be months or years before the effects filter down to the local level to any noticeable degree. If, that is, they ever become noticeable.
Local government is different. If the city council votes to begin work on your street next week, there’s a good chance you’ll wake up to the sound of machinery rather than the alarm clock. If the county decides to move a polling place, you’ll have to keep that in mind when you go vote next time. When the school board switches curricula for subjects, it means your kids will be carrying different books. At no other level of government are you likely to be able to speak with someone living a few streets away who can have such an effect on your life.
Even the judicial elections matter. While no one wants to wind up before the court, there are dozens of ways it can happen. And, even if you’re not involved in a case directly, an appellate ruling can result in changes to the way you do business.
These local elections matter deeply. They shape the communities we live in. The people placed in office through these elections set priorities, they decide how your tax money is spent, how emergency services are funded and who will be leading critical departments.
And there are still people who, when faced with a local election, shrug and claim they don’t matter?
It’s a tremendous mistake to conflate an office’s profile with its importance. The very immediacy of the powers held by local officials make it more than worth paying attention to the elections and participating as voters.
There’s another reason, too, one that goes to the heart of the idea of the United States as a representative democracy. Elections matter simply because they are elections.
While the idea of people voting for those in power has lost much of the novelty it had when the United States was established, it’s worth noting that large segments of the world’s populations are still denied meaningful elections.
Elections confer legitimacy in ways that no other process can. Why else would even the most blatant dictators, people like the leaders of North Korea, hold even sham elections? Why else would the military junta in Myanmar be so opposed to elections, and the people they seek to control so committed to them?
The history of the United States has recognized that same importance. Over generations the voting franchise has expanded. It hasn’t always been easy. It hasn’t always happened in the way it should have. But the population eligible to vote today is indisputably more representative of the population than the requirements of being a white, male landowner at least 21 years of age that held common sway in the nation’s early years.
Race-based restrictions on voting were struck down in 1870, though it took another century for the de jure case to become de facto. Fifty years later, in 1920, women received the vote. And 51 years after that suffrage was extended to those 18 or older.
Elections matter because of what they are. Because of what they represent. Because of what people have gone through to secure and protect their right to participate.
Today is Election Day. It’s not the most noticeable one. It hasn’t come with the trappings people often think of when they hear the phrase. But, still, the ballots are there. The stations are open. The opportunity waits.
Make your voice heard. Participate. Exercise your rights.