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The Crucial Role of Local Elections

With US politics deeply divided, economic inflation rising, and significant changes in the federal court system, it’s understandable that many Americans feel overwhelmed and fatigued by political discussions.

According to Pew Research, 65% of Americans feel exhausted thinking about politics, while only 10% of Americans feel hopeful. Feelings of dread and disapproval from unfavorable socioeconomic conditions and divisive federal elections are widespread in today’s political landscape.

Recall the 2012 first Obama vs. Romney debate. Over a decade ago, this debate was respectful. Both candidates’ opening remarks were lighthearted and complimentary of one another.

A simple handshake was missing from the Trump vs. Biden debate in late June. Discussion of policy was absent, and rebuttals were filled with moral exposès and low blows compared to the 2012 debates. If the largest election in history creates such feelings of cynicism among Americans, where is the solution?

How can voters feel valued again in our democracy? How can we regain the sense of control that we have recently lost?

With roughly half of all partisan political discussions resulting in stress and frustration, a key component to political unity is missing: community involvement. It’s much easier for Americans to focus on the macro scale when it comes to policy because of the federal government’s relatability and ubiquity. However, it is more important now than ever for voters to challenge themselves to look beyond that which they feel is uncontrollable and zoom in to their individual communities.

Not only will this create more effective governance, but it will foster a sense of control that most Americans feel they are missing in politics.

With the accessibility of major news available in every American’s pocket, it is easier to relate and discuss the national politics and elections than the decentralized local politics. In one study by George Washington University, 99% of respondents never engaged with local news websites in their immediate media cycle.

Local elections impact a community’s education system, infrastructure, housing, transportation, public safety, and taxes. These decisions directly affect our lives, making the impact of local officials more visible and immediate. The income-based tax relief for lower class individuals in your town? A direct result of local elections. The increases in Crisis Intervention Teams for individuals with mental health issues in your county? Also a direct result of local elections. Individuals can petition for what they believe is right in their locality and their issues can be more efficiently and effectively addressed.

The direct impact on the constituents of a locality also fosters an impression that citizens actually have a voice in government. It can also provide a more positive view of political representation and close connections with their elected officials, creating a culture of engagement rather than a culture of distrust. Joe Biden and Donald Trump won’t know who you are as an individual, but you have a chance to sit down with your mayor or city council and discuss issues that are of importance to you with a focus on local or state governance.

While it might not feel like local policy does anything on a large scale, local governments have historically been referred to as “laboratories of democracy,” or the places where policy is tested on a smaller scale to be adopted on a national scale. Therefore, it is easier to get progressive and ambitious policy passed at the local level with less voices clouding the debate table. When these policies work, there’s a stronger chance of them entering the state sphere and eventually the policy sphere.

For example, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), enacted by President Obama in 2010, incorporated reforms to make health insurance more accessible. Regarded as one of the most progressive healthcare policies of the modern era, the ACA was modeled after Governor Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts Health Care Reform in 2006. Both plans incorporated an individual mandate, subsidies, employer requirements, and market reforms for health insurance with the goal of incorporating near universal healthcare for Americans. The reforms introduced by RomneyCare served as an experimental blueprint that paved the way for ObamaCare. The voices of the citizens of Massachusetts, demanding expanded access to health insurance, provided a springboard for adoption of a national policy.

The two politicians, Romney and Obama, were collaborative prior to the 2012 Presidential Election. The RomneyCare to ObamaCare pipeline shows that collaboration between local and state governments is possible within the national government. It is an example of rising above controversy and adopting progressive policy for the people with a goal that transcends partisanship.The respect between the two representatives of state government and national government was clear in their debates with one another.

Local elections are the bedrock of our democracy. When we engage locally, we reclaim the control and voice that many feel is missing from national politics. Voting in local elections isn’t just a civic duty – it’s a direct line to creating safer neighborhoods, better schools, improved public services, and more responsive governance.

Start by identifying the issues that matter most to you, such as inflation, sustainability, affordable housing, police reform, or pandemic recovery. What aligns with your core values?

The next step is to determine who is on your ballot. Ballotpedia is one of the most comprehensive websites to cover local elections. It can help you understand issues that are lacking clarity, determine incumbent officials’ track records, and find out who is funding candidate’s campaigns.Many other nonpartisan resources are available on Transparency In Politics. You can quickly see a candidate’s dedication to disclosing their background check in the ‘Certified Candidates’ section. Knowing that someone has the integrity to share their report publicly can be a measure of a candidate’s fitness for the office they are running for. These resources can help redirect you away from the national stage – zoom in rather than out. Making your voice heard where it is most effective will help you regain a sense of control in politics. Your vote in local elections is powerful and can physically strengthen the political systems closest to you.

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