People are sort of funny. We, as part of a sovereign nation, are in control of whom we elect into political office and then we, the people, complain about those whom we elect into those offices. Make sense? The only time when people seem to go to the booths is during the presidential elections, and even then the numbers are not great. In 2012, only 58.2 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote. “We the people,” or at least those who don’t vote, have no right to complain.
The numbers in years without a presidential election are even lower. According to the United States Election Project, only 41 percent of eligible voters casted a ballot in 2010. In New York specifically, the number shrank to 35.5 percent.
As students, we may have an excuse, since most of us are outside of our constituencies, but we are just the beginning of the problem. Very few people vote in local elections, which is somewhat counterintuitive.
Our votes at the local level carry much more weight than they do at the national scale. Still, we neglect to carry out our civic duty as drawn up by the Constitution. Locally elected officials make the decisions that immediately impact our lives.
Take student housing, for instance. Zoning laws restrict students to live in certain areas. Other local laws control leasing and the types of contracts that can be agreed upon. Local government also influences municipal court, public transportation – and the list goes on.
The problem lies in the availability of information. Presidential elections are impossible to avoid. Candidates’ platforms plague the media in presidential election years but are nowhere to be found otherwise.
Signs litter every street intersection, but what do we know beyond the local candidates’ names and political party affiliation? The constituents, the candidates and the media are all largely insufficient in providing information to students about local elections. For that reason, we must take it upon ourselves to become active participants in local elections.
Of course, it would help if there were greater student outreach on the part of the candidates. But the reason they do not campaign to students is because we do not vote in the first place. If we went into the voting booth in greater numbers, then they would see that we comprise a significant voting bloc, and they would do more to appeal to us as students.
So, if you would like to see more local policies that are friendly to students, there is a very simple solution. Go out and show local politicians that you have something to offer them: your vote.