Don't Sleep On Your Right to Vote (Or Your Municipal Elections)
Since the 2016 elections, Americans—millennials, specifically—have crawled out of their comfort zones and rallied their enthusiasm to become more and more involved in the democratic process. From starting new organizations, podcasts and nonprofits, to voting in the 2018 midterms with the highest national turnout rate since 1914— we’ve shown we’re invested in democracy and engaged in our communities.
With all of this renewed engagement, politics have become more engrossing than ever. We’ve tuned into congressional hearings, overwhelmed our representatives phone lines and paid close attention to every new headline. As the national news pulls our attention every which way, it can be easy to lose sight of the issues and activism that hit closest to home, in our own cities, happening in our own municipal elections.
Tomorrow in Jacksonville, Atlanta, and other cities all over the country, voters will head to the polls to determine their next four years of local leadership. From school board to sheriff and tax collector to mayor, these positions will determine the safety of our schools, accountability of our leadership and sanctity of our cities. Municipal elections have a greater effect on our daily lives, yet show a disportionate affect on our motivation to vote, with less than 27 percent voter turnout in local races nationwide.
“If our municipal elections are so important, why is the turnout rate so low?”
Follow the money, honey. Candidates in local elections often have less capital to spend on TV ads, billboards and digital advertising, making them less likely to reach voters or get them out to vote. Municipal turnout has also suffered as local newspapers around the country have stopped their presses. While our media has become more centralized, streamlined and available nationwide, it’s also driven readership away from local issues.
As our cities grow to accommodate more millenials, they’re not encouraging them to vote. More young people live in cities than previous generations, but millennials let their grandparents decide local elections. This points to communication gaps between young and old leadership, and the sizable disparities between modern media and old-school campaign strategies. The average person spends half their waking hours on a screen every day, yet most campaign funds are dumped into mailers and TV ads that reach limited demographics. While baby boomers are quick to criticize our lagging voting record, they aren’t doing much to meet young voters where they are.
“I’m not really political enough to vote.”
Luckily for us, voting isn’t just for activists. It’s for (almost) everyone, and it only gets more effective the more we do it. We’re better citizens when we vote, and we create better communities when we participate in the democratic decisions that shape our cities. Not many municipal races will make national news or be covered on “Pod Save America” tomorrow, but all of them will transfer the power to protect our working families, support our small businesses, and defend our human rights. In our hometown of Jacksonville, tomorrow’s election will affect the fate and potential sale of our locally-owned utility company, determine our strategy to combat our crime rate after the deadliest January in years and decide to protect or attack the Jacksonville Human Rights Ordinance of 2017 that keeps employers from discriminating on the basis of sexuality.
Those aren’t political issues, they’re personal. They could affect your bus route, utility bill, career, home value and personal safety.
“I don’t really know enough to vote.”
Many first-time voters are intimidated by the voting process. From daunting registration deadlines, to the length and design of ballots, to the public separation from what our officials actually do, it can be hard to know how to vote and what to vote for. It can be even harder for marginalized communities without transportation to the polls or access to ballots in their first language, without internet access to research candidates or with any of the many barriers our voting system places on people of color.
Luckily, more organizations are popping up to reach first-time voters and fight for fair voting laws nationwide. However, our democracy shouldn’t depend on separate organizations to keep our voting system fair and equitable. How do we protect voting rights and counteract voter suppression? By voting (duh)—and voting for representatives who uphold democratic values and protect voting rights for all citizens. Local elections create a culture of voting habits and education that lead to more community activism, and higher turnout in midterm and general elections.
Unsure if you’re registered or looking for your polling place? Check your local Elections website. (Click here for Duval County Supervisor of Elections.) Looking for ways to increase voter turnout? Volunteer to drive people to the polls; text your friends, family, exes and enemies to remind them to vote; ask your employer about lunch-break flexibility on voting day; and phone-bank or sign-wave for a local candidate. Want to amp up the voting morale? Take a (million) voting selfie(s), tag @babeswhohustle, and use the hashtag #babeswhovote to be featured on our Instagram story tomorrow.
We’re better citizens when we each show up to vote. We create a better city, state and country when we all show up to vote. Municipals matter, and we need them as much as they need us.
Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Mara is the Creative Director here at BWH, the Social & Systems Manager for Small Fox Media, and a freelancing communications consultant. Her passions include writing, sailing, camping, thinking of her next meal and planning her next dinner party. Find more of her work on her website.