With presidential hopefuls debating in the news each week and the media’s eyes clearly on the 2012 campaign for the presidency, it is often easy to forget the local elections. Unfortunately, these local elections often fall victim to low voter turnout as a result of either public ignorance or simple complacency. In many ways, those local elections are just as important – or more important — as the elections that determine our next president. Voting for congressional senators and representatives in local elections is crucial.
It may be overly simplistic to state that those who do not vote have little right to complain, but education of the political system is one of many steps in combating voter apathy. The political system works to its fullest capacity when all parts are functioning properly. It is not enough to have the public vote for a president. To be effective, ideally the president must have the backing in the Senate and House to get the important work done. Political education begins with a key principle: the president today, as well as presidents in the past, can not work alone. They must pass bills jointly with members of Congress. Congressional backing is vital to getting bills through the system.
In 2011, with a number of political setbacks, President Barack Obama has had difficulty getting legislation through Congress. Voter outcry and discontent has surged as Obama supporters complain that the president’s hands are tied. The facts reveal that during the 2010 local midterm elections, control of the House passed to Republicans. Democrat supporters did not show up at the voting booths. When the Democrats lost their seats in the House, voters effectively tied the president’s hands. For any president, midterm elections can be the difference between a great president and an insignificant figure head.
With political polls indicating unprecedented public dissatisfaction, public anger is divided in large part between with what Congress has done or with what Obama has not been able to achieve. It may be easy to assign blame, but more important to acknowledge that at least part of the responsibility lies in the voters. Because of losses in the midterm elections, Republicans in Congress can effectively filibuster, overturn or “kill” measures Obama supports, resulting in a system that has difficulty achieving anything.
Around 40 percent of the eligible voters in Virginia, the District and Maryland showed up to the polls in 2010. This is a significant drop from the presidential election, where the estimated number is at 64 percent, according to the Census Bureau. The numbers are low compared to established democracies in other nations; Canada, for instance, generally experiences a voter turnout of 70-75 percent. Perhaps the most troubling fact about these statistics is the most common reason why nonvoters don’t vote. They overwhelmingly believed their votes would not make a difference.
With local elections fast approaching, it is the duty of eligible voters to be reliably informed of the candidates in their local elections. Local politicians determine what will affect the day-to-day lives of residents including allocation of budgetary funds and resources and redistricting, which profoundly impacts the political makeup of an area. They are also the gatekeepers in terms of passing and changing state laws. The 2012 election may usher in Obama’s second term or the administration of a new Republican president. Local turnout and voting for state representatives and senators will determine how effective the president – Democrat or Republican — will be.
Wendy Thompson contributed to this article.