I believe national politics and federal elections to be of great importance to the health and security of our country. That being said, as voters our priorities have been moving in the wrong direction for many years now.
Of course it matters who the president is and who is in the congress and senate, but I’m of the opinion that it matters more who is on your local school board, local commissions and even who your county sheriff is. I would argue that the practical importance of elections is greatest at the local level and begins to diminish as you move up to the state and then federal levels.
Obviously the matters taken on by the federal government are serious, but they often take a long time to affect the daily lives of Americans. Supreme Court decisions are important, but those weekly municipal and school board meetings often make immediate impacts on real, everyday lives of you and your neighbors.
Every four years, voters turn out in droves to help choose their presidential candidate following years of arguing, watching endless campaign ads, and adorning their vehicles with stickers, their yards with signs and their bodies with T-shirts and baseball caps.
People will sacrifice the tranquility of a holiday dinner or family reunion to have heated discussions about matters of federal government and their takes on presidential candidates, but most don’t have a clue who sets the budget at their child’s school or the city or county they live and work in every day.
Local school boards and city and county commissions make decisions that can immediately affect property taxes, local laws and regulations, and help dictate the fiscal and even social direction of every citizen within a community. Collectively, these entities affect every single American, every single day.
While people argue over hot button issues that are rarely changed by their federal elected officials, their local commissions are buying and selling property, regulating businesses and building projects, deciding what can and cannot be built and how your tax dollars are spent on projects that locals see and use every single day.
Even within the state and federal elections process, voters usually have their priorities backwards — or rather less efficiently focused. The complaints about the quality of general election candidates are many, but the vote totals in the primary elections leading up to November are often embarrassingly few.
It’s obvious that federal and state politics are much more entertaining at times, but that doesn’t make them more important. Frankly, regardless of who wins what, we all know that, in reality, little ever changes in Washington either way. Meanwhile, your local city and county commissions and school boards are entertaining proposals, passing rules and ordinances and spending tens of millions of dollars per community on a weekly basis. They often do so with very little community involvement or attention of voters.
It’s not that these local entities don’t want voter community involvement. In fact, I personally know many elected officials would love to see a full room during their regular meetings and love feedback from residents. Many of these meetings, even in the smallest of towns, are even live streamed online or broadcast over local access cable channels. Yet rather than attending these meetings or turning out to vote in local elections when there isn’t a presidential race on the ballot, people tend to only moan and complain after decisions have been made.
People love to complain about wasteful SPLOST projects, yet the total votes when they are on the ballot during “off year” elections pale in comparison to voter turnout during a presidential election year. Many of the loudest voices against infrastructure or personnel decisions made by local school boards come from those who don’t bother to vote — or simply run themselves — in these local elections. There sure are a lot of complaints recorded after local decisions are made at board meetings, but it’s odd how few bother to darken the doors of these public forums when they are taking place. At some point, it’s up to us to change that and put the focus back on our communities.
It’s every adult citizen’s duty to know their elected officials — especially at the local level. It’s every voting-age resident’s responsibility to keep up with local affairs and to let their voice be heard both BEFORE and AFTER an important vote occurs at a meeting or at the ballot box.
If you don’t like what’s happening at your child’s school, attend the board meetings, call your board members, vote in school board elections or even run yourself. The same goes for your local government. Many a local measure has failed or passed based on public input at commission meetings. Sometimes officials will openly admit that they are on the fence on an issue and are swayed by the words of someone or some group that took the time to show up and share an opinion at a meeting.
If you don’t like the projects included in a SPLOST proposal, there are literally years leading up to the vote to make your voice heard at planning sessions and dozens of meetings welcoming the public’s opinion — not to mention the eventual vote itself.
Even if you are already focusing your attention locally, make sure you’re always looking at the present and the future. We can discuss past votes or projects we didn’t like until we’re blue in the face, but that wasted energy would be better focused keeping an eye on what we should be influencing right now to help make our local communities better.
Stay informed, get involved, attend meetings, speak with candidates and elected officials, and get out and vote in every election. Not just the ones that are fun to argue with your family about over holiday dinners.
Local elections and meetings matter most, so let’s make an effort to give them the attention they deserve.