The Importance of Local Elections
by Kasey Mathews | published Mar. 18th, 2021
The past few months have been tumultuous at best. But if one thing has become abundantly clear, it’s that our nation relies upon its voting population. Regardless of who you vote for, these elected officials are going to be ensuring our government continues operation.
However, turning on the TV or even scrolling through social media, a typical voter will usually only see presidential and senatorial candidates; but what of those representatives that govern a little closer to home?
Why Does This Matter?
With the mainstream conversation surrounding national candidates, local elections often get swept to the wayside. Yet, as Monroe County Legislator Yversha Roman explained, local officials hold a huge importance in a person’s daily life.
“All of the quality of life issues that most people complain about are discussed and handled at the local level,” said Roman. “Childcare, our roads, our parks, policing ... are [all] things that local lawmakers directly impact.”
"All of the quality of life issues that most people complain about are discussed and handled at the local level."
Roman currently serves as the Minority Leader in the Democratic Caucus within the Monroe County Legislature. Much of her work has consisted of increasing the transparency of governance within the county, as well as advocating on behalf of the communities she serves in the 26th district, including Gates, Greece and parts of Rochester.
Whereas national officials such as the president can affect policy on a large scale, the daily impacts can often be minimal on an individual basis. Local officials are those who oversee city and county budgets and resolve local problems a resident would experience more often.
Alex Tubridy, a civic engagement coordinator at RIT’s Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement, further explained that it’s unrealistic to vote for a national representative with the hopes of them coming to your community to resolve local issues.
“This is something that will happen as a result of your local government — specifically strategic budget planning and a willingness to update local infrastructure,” he explained.
Tubridy described a recent report run by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. Through the report, much of the state’s infrastructure was assessed, including roads, bridges and sewers. From this, the comptroller was able to make recommendations for repair and future maintenance; however, it was up to local elected officials to fund and complete these improvements.
Thus, if you’re passionate about local infrastructure — or any other local issue — you need to work to elect a local representative that shares that passion. Or follow in Roman’s footsteps and run for the office yourself.
I’m Just a Student
While it’s easy to say “voting is important,” it can often be more difficult to follow through. Much of the RIT community is made up of students; many from outside the Rochester area. For those students, voting is a bit more complicated than just driving down the road and filling out a ballot.
There are resources available, however, to help students through the voting process if they are away from home.
Tubridy is the current chairperson for the ROAR the Vote committee at RIT. As he described, ROAR the Vote was started in 2016 as part of an initiative by RIT administrators to increase voter turnout amongst RIT students, which had at the time been significantly below the national average for four-year universities. The initiative is there to help students regardless of their political affiliation.
"If you’re passionate about local infrastructure — or any other local issue — you need to work to elect a local representative that shares that passion."
ROAR the Vote’s purpose is “to focus on increasing [RIT’s] outreach efforts to students surrounding voter registration, obtaining absentee ballots or just learning more about the voting process,” Tubridy explained.
However, as Roman pointed out, finding information on local candidates can often be a task of its own.
“Unfortunately, it’s a system that is built to be confusing,” Roman said. “But it’s still vitally important to try and seek out that information.”
She recommended looking into the board of elections website for your district. If you’re a member of a certain political party, you could look at the local party website as well, such as the Monroe County Democratic Party website or Republican Party website. It’s also a good idea to look at an individual candidate’s website, if one exists.
Tubridy had a few other recommendations especially for local candidates, including simply Googling a candidate’s name or looking the candidate up on Ballotpedia.
“If the candidates have webpages or a Wikipedia page even — any other resource — usually you can find a link [on Ballotpedia] and read up more on what they stand for there,” Tubridy said.
Why Should I Care?
It’s no big secret that an individual vote in a general election is one among millions. On a local level, though, that isn’t the case. Because local elections already see lower turnout rates than general and midterm elections, the total number of votes are much smaller. Additionally, you’re voting only within your community and the surrounding area — further increasing the importance of your one vote.
The decisions local officials make will determine how much funding your public school system will receive, your local tax rates, policing and so much more. If there’s anything in your community that you feel should be improved or changed — or perhaps you enjoy it as is, and want to ensure it stays that way — then you should vote for candidates who feel the same.
If you still feel voting isn’t enough or isn’t worth it on its own, there’s always more you can do as well.
“There’s ways to be involved with politics beyond just voting,” Tubridy explained. “If you feel particularly passionate about a candidate or their platform ... you can always reach out to their office directly.”
Reach out to your local candidates and see if they need help. Volunteer as a community organizer or attend community meetings. If there’s a particular issue you care about, consider working with local nonprofits who are fighting these issues.
Learn more about the voting process and registration at rit.edu/elections.