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Davis, California

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Don’t forget about local elections

Fight the polarization of local community at the ballot box

 

By CLAIRE SCHAD — cfschad@ucdavis.edu

 

Every four years, when the presidential election comes up, the country goes through a predictable cycle. People run to social media to encourage their friends and family to vote, many post selfies with their “I voted” stickers and some share information about polling places. This influx of content surrounding voting is always encouraging and often provides us with a reminder of the power of democracy.

However, the situation looks a bit different in years without presidential elections. The elections go on, yet absent are the constant voting reminders and media attention. Despite the continuing elections, many people don’t seem to pay any attention to them, or maybe don’t even know they are occurring.

Many cities held local elections this November — did you pay attention to them? As college students, we have the unique opportunity to register to vote in our hometown or where we are attending school. So, while Davis didn’t have an election this November, your hometown may have. Unfortunately, turnout remained low for most local elections this November.

This is a problem — one of the strongest connections to democracy we have in the United States is our systems of local government, yet people don’t seem too inclined to participate. Voter turnout in the United States sits at about 66 percent for presidential elections and about 50 percent for midterm elections. In contrast, voter turnout in local elections is only around 15 to 27 percent.

This phenomenon is confusing since local elections usually have the most direct impact on a voter’s everyday life. Whether it’s voting for school board candidates, public safety initiatives or funding for local parks, voters are likely to be able to see the impact of their vote much more clearly. Nevertheless, people don’t show up to the polls for local elections.

So why is this? Why don’t people vote in local elections? Well, it’s likely due to a number of factors, however, a couple stand out: the time at which local elections are held and the information people receive.

Local elections usually occur in off-cycle years, meaning they don’t coincide with midterm or presidential elections. This was originally done with the hopes that voters would be able to spend more time focusing on the local policies and candidates without the distraction of state and federal elections. Unsurprisingly, it seems that this idea has backfired.

Another key cause of low voter turnout is that people don’t fully understand what issues are on the local ballot. Many people don’t view large-scale social issues to be relevant in local elections, resulting in them skipping out on voting.

Additionally, it is one thing to vote for a presidential candidate who has been laying out every reason you should vote for them during a two-year campaign. However, it’s another thing to read through all the policy goals of your local school board candidates and select the ones which you most closely identify with. Overall, it takes more effort to vote in local elections because it is usually harder to inform yourself. Despite these obstacles, we must find a way to increase turnout in our local elections.

One of the clearest examples of the importance of local elections lies in the extreme polarization of school boards in recent years. Whether it is through book bans, debates on critical race theory or attacks on members of the LGBTQ+ community, almost every major social issue has come up in some way at local school board meetings.

Right here in Davis, school board meetings have repeatedly become places of debate for transgender rights. These debates often include comments from the Yolo County chapter of Moms For Liberty, a national organization that, according to their website, is “fighting for the survival of America by unifying, educating and empowering parents to defend their parental rights at all levels of government.” This group is defined as an “anti-government extremist group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center and they have repeatedly spoken out against Davis Joint Unified School District’s (DJUSD) efforts to provide services for transgender youth.

Extremist groups such as Moms For Liberty have taken advantage of the low involvement levels in local meetings and elections to work their way into local decision-making. This can be seen through their endorsements of their own candidates and repeated efforts to change DJUSD policy surrounding transgender youth.

While changing the timeline of local elections is unlikely to be an easily attainable solution anytime soon, we as voters have the ability to change the narrative surrounding local elections. Sure, it might take a bit more effort to prepare yourself to vote, but it can feel good to do your own research on candidates whose names you won’t find in the national news. So next time a local election comes up, look a little closer at what’s on your ballot, you might be surprised (or appalled) at what you find.

 

Written by: Claire Schad — cfschad@ucdavis.edu 

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

 

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