Why Local Elections Matter

By McKenzie Schwark
Feature Writer

Big change starts small, and there is nowhere that it is more obvious than in local government.

The fight for major social policy changes like women’s suffrage, marriage equality, and reproductive healthcare access began at the state or local level. Even though the presidential race tends to monopolize the spotlight during election season, local elections have a major and immediate impact on our everyday lives, and are often the breeding ground for future federal policy change.

As you may remember from high school civics class, there are three levels of government: legislative, judicial, and executive.

Those three branches exist on the federal level, the state level, and the city or town level. Congress is the federal example of legislative government, whereas a city or town council is the local example of legislative government. The Supreme Court is the federal example of judicial government, whereas district and municipal courts are the state and local examples. The president sits in the executive office on the federal level, but governors and mayors hold those offices for states and cities and towns. All of these levels of government pass bills and policies that affect all of us every year. 

If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything (and it sure has taught us a lot!) it’s that local government is vital to a community’s success. Governors and mayors have played an essential role throughout 2020, proving just how important they are. Difficult decisions have been left up to local officials: like when and how to reopen schools and businesses, and whether to enact mask mandates. 

Local government officials make decisions regarding public schools, policing and public safety, affordable housing, and even alcohol and marijuana ordinances. And unlike the stalemates prone to Washington, state legislatures are actually really productive. They pass bills and create new budgets every single year. 

Local government decides how a large portion of tax dollars are spent, and are in charge of city and state budgets. They spend those funds on six different categories: elementary and secondary education, public welfare, health and hospitals, highways and transportation, police and public safety, and corrections. School boards make the call on how funds get spent on education, mayors and councils make decisions regarding transportation and infrastructure, and local prosecutors are instrumental in deciding who goes to prison and who doesn’t. These officials have the power to make huge impacts in their communities, and it matters that their views and values reflect those of the people they serve. 

And, you have direct access to these officials. You can actually attend school board meetings, council meetings or town halls to share your concerns with local officials. (It’s even encouraged that citizens attend!) There is no level of government where your voice can make more of an impact than at the local level. 

Before you head to the polls or fill out your absentee ballot this year, make sure you research the candidates at every level of government on your ballot. If a Google search isn’t finding what you’re looking for, the League of Women Voters has a great tool to learn more about candidates in your area: https://www.vote411.org/