Did you hear? Last Tuesday was Election Day. If you’re not a regular national news consumer, you probably missed it. Odd-year elections are much quieter than presidential or even midterm elections. In fact, there wasn’t any voting in Nebraska on Nov. 2. Last week, state elections took place in New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania, as well as a couple special elections for U.S. House seats in Ohio and Florida. There were also smaller elections happening across the country.
Because odd-year elections are so isolated, they don’t typically have federal implications. A change in Virginia’s governor isn’t going to affect day-to-day life here in Lincoln.
However, there are still reasons to look at these elections. First, these are the first elections since President Biden took office. They are early indicators of the mood of American voters and of how the midterm elections may go next November. Also, these elections hold much more weight on people’s daily lives than federal elections typically do.
The biggest reason we should focus on local elections is because they matter more. Not only do the results have more influence on individuals' lives, but it is also a way to see the results of your democratic efforts. Millions of votes for president can make voters feel like a statistic. In much smaller, local elections, Americans’ voices can be heard.
Since the early 2000s, our attention has shifted more and more towards national news and, by extension, national politics. National news agencies have grown while local newspapers disappear in increasing numbers every year. When there’s less reporting and media attention around smaller elections such as school board members, county commissioners or even state representatives and senators, we think about it less. It falls out of the conversation.
But yet, as I said previously, these are the most important elections in our nation. The necessity for local newspapers is a whole other argument to make, but the important point here is that we need to be engaged and passionate about local elections. National media isn’t going to fuel that discussion. That has to start in your own community. It starts with individual voters.
This year — in Virginia in particular — Americans seemed a lot more riled up about this election than they had for odd-year elections in years prior. Election turnout was the highest it had been in recent gubernatorial elections, while in other places like Colorado and New York City it was quite low. One reason for this high political energy is growing concerns over critical race theory. This issue is one that Virginia’s new Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin leaned into while campaigning.
Critical race theory did not decide the Virginia election. Early analysis says it only decided about 27% of school board races across the country. But at the very least, concern or intrigue about critical race theory brought voters to the polls. It created interest. It caused a spark.
I think the debate regarding critical race theory is way overblown and wildly misunderstood among those who are so concerned about it. Regardless, I do think the energy that concern created is significant. It’s the kind of energy we need in local elections.
When it really comes down to it, local elections are where change begins. As we’ve seen recently, President Biden alone cannot change America. Congress cannot single-handedly change our country — especially not with the way they’ve been working as of late. If we wish to see change in our country and our daily lives, it starts with these small elections. District attorneys won elections by embracing decriminalization. A number of other victors throughout the judicial system promise to fight for court reforms.
These necessary policy changes and cultural shifts in America start here. They start in cities and counties filled with individuals who care about their communities and are working to change them for the better.
We shouldn’t rely upon fiery rhetoric like that of conservatives when it comes to critical race theory. Rhetoric like this is dangerous. But we can build off that energy. We can use it as a starting point, at the very least a reference. This passion can be utilized and transformed for positive change in communities across the country.
The 2022 midterm elections are just under a year away. Local elections will happen at a much larger scale than they did this year. That means we need to learn these lessons now, before Election Day 2022. Even if they don’t get the attention they deserve, local elections are essential to our democracy. They are critical to our way of life as Americans. They are where change happens.
Megan Buffington is a freshman journalism major. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.