The 2022 midterm elections and which party will gain the majority sometimes seem like that’s all that the news has been talking about for the past year. While the national midterms are important, I urge voters not to forget about local elections.
The people up for election for mayor, City Council and school board implement policies that affect local residents more directly than almost anything Congress decides. Even better, people have a much greater link to these local politicians than anyone in a federal office because they aren’t 3,000 miles away in Washington, DC, representing hundreds of thousands of constituents. They’re your neighbors.
The only problem is that people aren’t paying nearly as much attention to these races as national and even state ones.
Aside from generally low voter turnout in U.S. elections compared to other developed nations, one of the main reasons people don’t vote in local elections is because they don’t know what local offices do.
Every public high school in the country requires its students to learn about the president, Congress and the Supreme Court, but few highlight the roles and responsibilities of mayors, City Councils and school boards.
So here’s your crash course on what each of these positions do, in general (note that each city may have slightly different rules and responsibilities).
The mayor is often the chief executive of a given city (think president). They are responsible for confirming and enforcing any city laws. Like the president, the mayor may also recommend items to the local legislature. In smaller cities and towns, the mayor may be more of a ceremonial role and associated powers are shifted to the City Council. City Councils and school boards typically act as the legislature (think Congress).
They create the rules and policies that govern their respective spheres. For City Councils, this looks like managing local budgets, approving major city changes, setting city taxes, and most of your day-to-day rules. For school boards, this looks like managing the district budget, setting curriculum guidelines, deciding which new classes can be piloted, and general district policy.
These two bodies decide the city and school guidelines citizens live with every single day. That’s why casting an educated vote in these races is even more important.
Beyond having a tangible impact on policy, voting in local elections is a great way for youth and adults alike to learn about politics and the electoral process. Chuck Schumer’s and Mitch McConnell’s conflicts can feel distant, but it’s hard to escape local issues that we run into every day. Local elections allow us all to learn about how our government functions firsthand.
Plus, they don’t have the same partisanship that national or even state politics hold. People see neighbors and friends as candidates, which provides greater incentive to engage.
For parents, passing this desire to children is especially valuable. It can instill in them strong democratic values and a desire to engage in their civic duties. As an 18-year-old voting in my first election, I feel equipped to vote largely because of my time spent participating with local government.
Let’s take a case study of what happens when low voter turnout leads to bad news.
Frequent readers of San Diego news may recall my Op-Ed in the Union-Tribune discussing the chaos within the San Dieguito Union High School District. Much of that chaos has followed the election of Trustee Michael Allman, who was elected with just 42% of the vote in 2020.
That’s with only 51% of the general population of the district voting. So, in theory, many of the scandals involving Allman (COVID reopening lawsuits, gerrymandering allegations, harassment claims, transphobic Facebook activity, etc.) could have been avoided with an educated voter turnout, saving taxpayer dollars and preventing emotional distress.
Allman won his race by just around 350 votes. I can’t imagine how much time of my life, and the lives of countless community members, could have been saved from debating over board meetings and district policy.
When you sit down to fill out your ballot, I urge you to give attention to your local elections.
Spend an evening sitting down and looking at candidates’ websites (pro tip: check their “Endorsements” page for quick info). Most importantly, though, stay engaged with our local politics. It runs much of our day-to-day lives and often goes overlooked in favor of flashy national campaigns.
Landon Block is a student activist and journalist who grew up in Encinitas. He is currently studying political science at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.