While garnering less attention than the presidential election, the mid-term elections, held today across the nation, offer the perfect opportunity to practice your rights, express your opinion and be the difference you want to see in your community.
Exercising your civic responsibility is a part of the privilege of living in a country that values the opinion of its citizens. Voting is a privilege that should not be taken lightly. Plus, if you vote, you could potentially be rewarded with a festive little sticker. Photo by Alexa Tippett
I am absolutely positive that you have, at some point, been told that you need to practice your “civic duty.” And while I am sure you probably smiled politely, nodded your head, and rolled your eyes a little bit after the conversation ended, I think that it is actually a good idea to examine what your “civic duty” really is.
There are a plethora of both mandatory and voluntary civic responsibilities that accompany being an American citizen, but perhaps the most important voluntary responsibility is voting.
When you think about voting, you probably imagine presidential elections – primary debates, (most likely) two main candidates, potentially standing in the cold for hours waiting for your turn in the polls, the patriotic congratulatory stickers that boast: “I voted!” But there are other voting opportunities that warrant your attention and your expression of civic responsibility. In fact, one is coming today, Tuesday, Nov. 8.
Mid-term and local elections are important to the individual. It is definitely not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about voting, but it is equally, if not more, important because it is a chance for citizens to implement changes at a foundational level of their community.
The purpose of mid-term elections is to elect or re-elect individuals to one-third of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. This process occurs every two years.
Knowing who you are electing as your representatives is important because the majority party in the House “controls the agenda,” according to Gary Nordlinger, professor of politics at George Washington University. You would want someone whose values align with your own – someone who you would trust to protect and defend your rights – to represent you in the House.
But, even considering how important the role of a senator is, could you name the current senators of your state?
Maybe you have just taken a Missouri Government and the U.S. Constitution course and you know exactly who is advocating for your state, but according to a poll taken by the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate, 46% of Americans were not even aware that their state has two senators and only 35% were able to name one of them.
Why does it matter, you ask? Great question. A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University revealed that Americans lack an extreme amount of understanding in regard to their civic responsibilities pertaining to judicial issues and decisions. They clarified that over 25% of study participants were unaware of whether law enforcement is controlled by the federal or state government. Further, about 30% of participants did not know which level of government created and enforces zoning laws. (It is state and local government, by the way).
This is an issue, and I know you’re thinking: OK? An issue for someone else to worry about, clearly.
But, these are issues that affect you directly. Local elections are held every year to appoint officials to positions that control prevalent issues within your community.
The positions being filled are jobs in your community, positions like mayor, city manager, city council, county executive, county commissioner, district attorney, and the school board. These are positions that affect your daily life, yet a majority of Americans are unaware of the impact these officials can have.
These individuals will be in charge of decisions within your community related to policing, public safety, commercial development, sanctuary jurisdiction status, public transit, local school quality, and the list goes on. These officials have a lot of influence in determining the priorities of your city and the way it will be run.
Melissa Wyatt of the Rock the Vote organization reminds voters that many massively important, landmark federal policies originated at the local level.
“Policies such as women’s suffrage, minimum wage, environmental protection, and marriage equality all began at the local and state level,” said Wyatt.
Policies like these changed the foundational aspects and beliefs of the nation. They are an example of local communities being able to make a widespread and lasting impact by being aware of the issues they were facing. But, it is important to note that these changes were also made because people were willing to verbalize their opinions and speak out about issues within their community.
They were aware of the issues and strived to make a change by making their voices heard to their local leaders.
Being knowledgeable about not only the candidates for office but also the problems and situations that will be presented on the ballot is an important aspect of fulfilling civic responsibilities.
Wyatt weighed in on this by reiterating: “Typically, just 1 in 5 voters participate in off-year local elections — meaning your vote at the local level can have an even bigger impact. For example, on just one election day in Ohio (in 2014), 7 local issues were decided by just 1 vote.”
I am not going to urge you to pick a specific political position, vote for a specific politician, or even share your thoughts about politics.
That being said, I urge you to be informed about the local public servants that you will elect, the issues that you are voting for, and the ways that you can effect change in your community through your actions.
Being informed is essential to having control over your life. Mid-term elections are on Nov. 8 this year. That’s today, all day. Find where the polls for your local election are located, and get out there today and practice your rights as an American citizen so that you can fulfill your civic responsibilities by voting.
Do you know who you are voting for? How about what you are voting for?
Can you make an impact on your community for the better if you do not know who or what you’re voting for? Make a difference today. Go vote. And then wear that cool little “I voted!” sticker proudly.