If You Really Want Change, Vote Local
Given the Trump Administration's evident legislative missteps, a series of embarrassing blunders, and today’s heightened political polarity, many Americans feel disillusioned by the government and frustrated by federal policies. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 29% of Republicans, and 28% of Democrats, have positive views of the federal government. Increasingly, people air their grievances on social media sites by sharing articles, long-winded posts, and petitions. Despite their passionate views, only a fraction of Americans make it to the polls-- even fewer in non-presidential election cycles. Although voter suppression efforts and gerrymandering both adversely affect turnout and the competitiveness of elections, voter apathy is another cause.
The incentives for us to participate in elections--both big and small--are numerous. For starters, services we generally take for granted, such as public schools, parks, and police & fire departments, are maintained by local governments. You may think that these services are successfully monitored no matter who is in office, but that is not always the case. In Golden, Colorado, for instance, debates over whether to allow private companies to preserve schools, parks, and other public utilities (i.e. street lamps, traffic lights) split along partisan lines between conservative and liberal approaches. Decisions such as these can have significant implications with regard to local tax policies, which stresses the importance of researching the views of local candidates.
Sometimes, however, the implications of these local debates go beyond issues such as tax policy and touch on larger societal conflicts. Candidates in Sonoma, California, for example, were recently split over whether to make the county a sanctuary destination for illegal immigrants. And in Jefferson County Colorado, the recently elected evangelical school board wants to eliminate certain historical discussions regarding slavery in public schools, much to the public’s dismay. Other debates rage on regarding public school voucher systems.
It is natural to think that local political conflicts such as these may not be likely to occur in your current residency. But even in places like Saratoga, significant change is happening, as the city will vote on a new charter that would completely restructure the municipal government. Citizens will also vote on judges, whose tenures will have lasting impacts on the Saratoga community.
Although students are not affected by changes in tax rates or budgeting allocated to public schools, students are still able to turn their political philosophies into action through a local vote. Issues such as social services for the homeless, as well as support for local businesses, are debates students can weigh in on by voting for candidates that represent their views.
Above all else, the recent independence movements in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq and the Catalonian region in Spain show the significance of having your voice heard. Over 90% of Kurd’s participated in their recent referendum; similar numbers were reported in Catalonia. While it remains doubtful that the results of either referendum will be honored by their respective states, both regions have at least have taken a step toward serious change thanks to their enthusiasm.
Limitations in the American voting system, most specifically the Electoral College, and issues regarding the accessibility of voting stations, are important issues that require our attention. But in terms of voting in local elections as a Skidmore student, these challenges are not an excuse to avoid participating. Students can conveniently cast a ballot with the same weight of any other Saratoga resident, right on campus in Case Center. It is helpful to be vocal about your political opinions, but it is absolutely crucial to vote.
Students can register to vote in New York until October 13. Click here to register.