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The importance of voting in local elections

Rebecca Horvath • Apr 14, 2018 at 7:15 AM

 

It seems we barely recover from one election before another is upon us. The brief respite from seeing advertisements and campaign signs is a welcome one, but they are back in full force.

With several local races to be decided in addition to our governor, senator and other key offices, it’s important that we don’t stay home. Naturally, we hear much more about presidential races, but it’s the local races that directly impact our lives in a much bigger way. Our individual votes hold much more power locally, but typically, 40 percent fewer voters show up for local elections than presidential races.

In an ideal world, we’d have a smaller federal government, and that would translate into more control at the state and local levels. This would give everyday people a bigger say in the laws and regulations that directly impact them in their daily lives, making local elections even more vital than they already are.

Recently, while out and about, I’ve seen numerous local candidates putting out their own signs. These local campaigns rely heavily on volunteer help and the candidates themselves dedicate many hours to knocking on doors, meeting constituents and spreading the word about their campaigns. Most candidates, even incumbents, have regular jobs on top of the nearly full-time work of campaigning. It’s a completely different world than federal races, yet these campaigns typically get much less attention; how often do you hear about the candidates, unless there is a scandal or ruckus?

During campaigns, many candidates hold “town hall” type events where voters can ask questions and share opinions. Even without such events, you might run into a candidate in the grocery store or a church – local candidates are accessible, giving voters a greater chance of having their concerns heard.

In some races, there may not be huge differences in candidates at the primary level, so it’s important to get to know each one. Party lines can sometimes play less of a role at the local level, since some issues are more regional than partisan, but it’s always important to know where a candidate stands on key issues; for some candidates, experience at the local level is a springboard for state or national races.

In local elections, margins of victory are often small – sometimes just a few votes. If weather or general apathy keeps voters at home on Election Day, a small group of dedicated voters decide who takes office. Consider this: There are approximately 73,000 registered voters in Washington County; around 51,000 of us voted in the last election.

The Washington County primary election is May 1. (Early voting period is April 11-26.) Interestingly, there is only one candidate in the Democratic primary in any race, while there are multiple Republicans in almost every individual race.

On August 2 (early voting July 13-28) the primary election will be held for Tennessee governor, U.S. Senate and Congress, and state Senate and House, as well as general elections for applicable county offices. (In our state, a voter doesn’t register as a Republican or Democrat, but we do have to choose one primary in which to cast our vote. While most people vote for the party they most identify with, there are some who vote strategically in an attempt to have the weakest opposition for their candidate of choice. It is a free country, folks!)

Finally, on November 6, we will vote in the state and federal general election, along with the Johnson City Municipal and town of Jonesborough ballots. (Early voting is October 17-November 1.) Of course, these mid-term races can have a big impact nationally because they can tip the scales of the House and/or Senate, but voter turnout is often lower. Regardless, the direct impact on voters is still what happens on Main Street.

Washington County has recently redrawn its districts and voting precincts, so be sure to find out before the election where you vote, if it has changed. The Washington County Election Commission has a helpful and informative website – check it out if you have questions. In each election, early voting locations are the Washington County Health Department on Princeton Road, the Jonesborough Courthouse (Main Street) and the Gray Fire Station on Gray Commons Circle.

We’ve seen in recent months that people will mobilize for a cause – but how many protestors will show up at the polls? It remains to be seen, but while voting is less glamorous, it is far more important in actually changing laws. It’s easy to complain, but voting takes just a little bit more effort; take the time to get to know local candidates, then show up at the polls and make your voice heard.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed by all Community Voices columnists are their own and do not necessary reflect those of the Johnson City Press.

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