Do your community proud: Vote Every Damn Year (or how you should love voting in local elections).
With the 2020 presidential election fully underway — with absentee ballots, early voting, vote-by-mail (yes, there is a difference between absentee and mail ballots depending on the state), and voting in person, the United States may see its highest voter turnout in nearly a century.
That’s all great and all — and to paraphrase 2020 presidential candidate Kanye West: America, I’m really happy for you, and I’m going to let you finish, but…
This is very, very sad.
The thing is is that isn’t the only year, nor time, you vote. In fact, you should have voted twice, maybe three times this year alone for your schools, your libraries, and local/state officials.
For many Americans, there is a belief that they vote in “the big election” e.g. for the presidency. Don’t get me wrong — the presidency is a pretty, pretty, pretty big deal. But you know what’s a bigger impact in your life?
How your roads will be paved and maintained?
How your community’s police or fire departments are funded and managed?
How we educate children and how we fund libraries?
How your village, city, or county is managed? And where all those tax dollars paid via sales or property taxes go?
How your state is governed? Who do you want to elect as representatives advocating for you in your state capitol?
Your everyday life is affected by those who are elected in your community, not necessarily who occupies the White House.
As someone who has worked on 140 campaigns in varying capacities, it’s particularly disheartening when I hear someone who only votes every four years for the presidency, yet doesn’t take the time to vote for their mayor or town supervisor, their school budget, or other local actions.
You lose the moral high ground to complain about your busted-up street or how your mayor is doing if you didn’t even bother to vote. And for us working in campaigns, we look at your voting record (don’t worry: we can’t see who you voted for) to identify you as a “prime” voter: someone who we can likely count on to vote.
Wonder why you don’t get those election mailers? Probably because you didn’t vote.
And on the flip side, I can see why it may not be worthwhile or easy for someone to vote in local elections. In some places, depending on if there is essentially one-party control, you have to enroll in a party that may not share your values, but may be the only way to vote in a primary election which may be tantamount to the general election. It can also be hard to vote — the times available to vote may not fit with your work or personal life, the lines may be long at the polls due to a lack of polling places in a community, and no other way to vote but in-person. It can also be complicated: in California this year alone, there are 12 ballot referendums — measures that allow or restrict a host of different things. And it can be intimidating, with scare tactics meant to temper voter turnout (seen not just in the South, but in areas of the Northeast in years past).
This starts at (you guessed it) the local level. Each county in New York State is responsible for managing elections, in which there are election commissioners who administer these agencies. The public at large does not elect these commissioners, but party officials or elected county officials do appoint these individuals. One small wrinkle: school and library elections can be administered by boards of education, which adds another layer of bureaucracy.
Some of those things are changing — in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. New York State, for example, only recently allowed for early voting and due to COVID-19, all voters are eligible this year to vote by mail via absentee.
However, we need to make voting even easier, especially for working families.
Voting should be as easy and secure as using an ATM. You don’t question the validity of an ATM: you input a pin, you check your balance, and you make your transaction. There is no reason we cannot figure, in 2020, a way to securely collect ballots electronically.
We need to consolidate voting dates. There shouldn’t be a reason why we have separate school, library, and local primary election dates. Can this be disadvantageous to candidates on the ballots, especially if there was not an attractive budget to vote for? Sure. But that is not enough to hold separate elections for these offices and decisions.
We need more people to run for office. Too often, you hear the often-said tropes, “I wish we had a different candidate” or “Is this the best we can do?” With the age of social media, first-time candidates for office have a better chance of getting the word out about their candidacy using low-cost or free marketing tools. With more people running for office at the local level, you’re more apt to know who they are, and in turn, you want to support (or maybe not support) your friend, family member, or colleague. You become invested in their success — and in turn, the success of your community.
And we need people to be not only informed about what they are voting for, but excited to vote. My mom and grandmother always brought me to the polls as a kid, pulling that lever for whoever was running for office that year. It became a civic duty and obligation — you make time to vote, no matter what. And when I turned 18, I couldn’t wait to register to vote and cast my first ballot in the September primary that year. And I haven’t stopped voting ever since.
With all the attention to this year’s campaign, we collectively need to keep the momentum for next year’s elections. In many cities and communities, they will be voting for local and state officials. This is where your vote truly matters: on how your local community is governed.
This is why I am asking you to commit to the VEDY Pledge.
A pledge to Vote Every Damn Year. A pledge to vote for your schools. A pledge to vote for your libraries. A pledge to vote your local and state officials. And then, a pledge to vote for your representatives in Washington, from the president to the Congress.
This pledge is so easy, all you have to do is just do it. Just vote next year. And the year after that.
And if you don’t? I don’t want to hear you complain.
I don’t want to hear how you think something should be different in your community, but you chose to not make your voice heard.
I don’t want to hear whatever excuse you had.
Do your community proud. Make your country better. Vote Every Damn Year.