By Lucy Verlaque
Elm Staff Writer
Across the United States, local elections are taking place in various counties.
While these elections have direct impacts on citizens and their communities, they rarely garner the same attention that presidential elections receive.
Municipal elections determine who will fill local government positions such as mayors, council members, and school board members. Once elected, it is up to these leaders to perform tasks such as managing city budgets, conducting education curriculums, and deciding on town laws.
These elections dictate how our tax dollars are allocated and determine which resources are prioritized within our communities, according to Forbes’ Isra Ahmad.
Since local leaders are in control of so many important governmental functions, it would be fair to assume that most citizens would show up at the polls to ensure that their community will have a capable administration.
Surprisingly, this is not the case.
According to The New York Times’ Zoltan Hajnal, across the nation, a mere “27% of eligible voters vote in the typical municipal election.”
Considering the impacts these elections have on communities, this is a dismally low number.
Because local elections pertain to specific regions, a single vote has much more weight than it does in a larger election.
A Portland State University study reported that low voter turnout means that “a small fraction of residents can have [outsized] influence in decisions about crucial issues like schools, parks, housing, police, and transportation,” INDY’s Jasmine Gallup said.
It is unfair for such a small percentage of a community’s population to determine which leaders are elected and which policies are implemented when these are factors that have consequences for everyone. Every citizen deserves to have a say in decisions that affect their hometown, and they should be taking the opportunity to do so.
“Exercising the right to vote is critical at every level of our democracy,” Ahmad said.
A fundamental principle of democracy is majority rule. When only a fragment of people participate in elections, it undermines this system.
Therefore, citizens should be encouraged to vote in every election — starting with college students.
College students are the future leaders of the U.S.; as such, we should follow current events and participate in elections in order to learn about these processes and prepare for our futures.
However, younger voters are notorious for low turnout rates in elections.
According to the Campus Vote Project, it is estimated that only 21% of eligible young voters cast a ballot in the 2014 midterm elections. While this number rose to about 31% in 2018, it is not enough; it shows that nearly 70% of young voters are still choosing not to vote.
As a young voter myself, I find it hard to believe that my peers could be so apathetic about voting. Far too often, we hear young people claiming to not know enough about politics to make informed votes. Worse, some simply do not care.
Schools have the power to change this.
According to the Campus Vote Project, most students trust their own college or university over other institutions. If schools did more to provide information about upcoming elections and encourage their students to vote, it could inspire many young people to become active voters.
Furthermore, the increasing popularity of mail-in ballots could serve as a convenient way for college students who are away from home to participate in their local elections remotely.
The first time I voted was by mail for a state-wide election. The process was simple and straightforward, and it was empowering to exercise my right to vote and to participate in such an important event.
Voting by mail for municipal elections would introduce students to the voting process, get them involved in their communities, and allow them to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
To ensure that students have the resources and motivation to vote, schools should encourage voter registration and voting by mail, as well as provide assistance for students, whether it be through organized events, information sessions, or social media.
By providing assistance with registration — particularly for absentee voters— and sharing information about voting with students, college can establish an informed community of young voters. Washington College should urge students to vote in their hometown elections. Every vote matters, and participating in elections is a great way to make your voice heard.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons