This election season, much attention has been paid to the presidential race. While the importance of the presidency is hard to overstate, we should not forget the tens of thousands of campaigns being waged at the federal, state and local levels. I imagine that most voters could tell me who is competing for the White House or a seat in the Capitol. However, I imagine that most voters could not say who is competing to run their more immediate communities. A vastly disproportionate amount of coverage and attention in both conventional and social media is paid to national elections. Any given local race, however, is often mistaken for a low-stakes event.
The average American tends to interact with local and state governments far more often than with the federal government. Under the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, all powers not granted to the federal government are reserved for the states and the people. States delegate much of this decision-making down to counties, boroughs or parishes and to townships, cities or towns. The problems that plague day-to-day American life — underperforming schools, draconian fines, police misconduct, ineffective overdose protocols, dilapidated housing, urban canyons, poorly maintained buses and potholes — must be solved at the local level. A better life in your community requires a better local government.
This November, voters in Lafayette County will help decide the fate of their state and local communities. This election will determine the senators and representatives tasked with fighting for federal aid when the next superstorm hits Mississippi. This election will install the state supreme court justice who must secure the rights of all Mississippians when they are next in jeopardy. This election will dictate whether or not Mississippi joins dozens of other states in allowing the medical use of cannabis and whether or not it adopts the new state flag. On the ballot are the function, freedom and fairness of future elections in Lafayette County, which depend on the competence and character of election commissioners. On the ballot is the safety of thousands of children, which is the highest responsibility of the local school board during the current pandemic.
Oftentimes, the politics of local and state governments are somewhat removed from the party politics of the federal government. This means that researching down-ballot races can help a voter achieve a more nuanced voting plan. It is entirely possible that someone supporting Joe Biden might better align with a Republican commissioner or that someone supporting Donald Trump might better align with a Democratic school board member. It is also entirely possible that a voter in one of the thirteen states or territories holding gubernatorial elections this November might want their preferred candidate’s party to hold a majority in the legislature.
This year, many Americans will find the mere act of voting to be more tedious or obstructed than it has been in years past. If you are willing to go through the process of voting, you might as well research down-ballot races and vote in your interest. If you are an especially civic-minded person, consider donating to or volunteering for a down-ballot candidate. A person who votes and a person who doesn’t vote — be they unable or unwilling — are equally subject to the decisions made by state and local governments. And these decisions are vital.
John Hydrisko is a senior English, philosophy and history major from Philadelphia, Penn.