By Brian Kaam, CVP Student Advisory Board Member from Florida Atlantic University
Every year, hundreds of candidates run for political office in many different levels of government. The level of government that has the most direct impact, however, is local government. While this may seem to contradict the common belief that national elections have the greatest influence on the electorate, it is true. Let me explain:
Members of Congress Have a Difficult Time Finding Common Ground, Regardless of Their Party Affiliation
Members of Congress are focused on broad policies for the entire country, represent different constituencies, and often receive campaign contributions from entities that have a stake in national affairs. What is best for an urban district in South Florida may not be an adequate proposal for a rural district in Arkansas. With different interests on the table, and different parties controlling different branches of government, it is not unusual to see gridlock. The nation’s current state of affairs as it pertains to partisan control of government depicts this reality. While there is currently a unified government, we have not seen any major legislation passed. There may be a multitude of reasons why this is the case, but I am certain competing constituencies and lack of consensus are two of them.
In local elections, candidates also have different constituencies, but achieving consensus on legislation is easier among 5-7 city commissioners than it is among 435 members of Congress. Representatives of smaller jurisdictions tend to know the issues affecting their respective communities, and input from constituents is more likely to be heeded. Depending on the type of legislation being passed, residents of a particular jurisdiction may see their local taxes increase, such as property taxes.
Another issue many communities grapple with is economic and physical development, and while ballot issues legislation can be pro-development, local residents can significantly affect the outcomes if they attend town halls and city council meetings, which tend to be regularly scheduled and must usually be posted days in advance of the event.
Local Elections Give Local Constituents the Opportunity to be More Heavily Involved in the Different Campaigns and Issues
In local elections, it is possible to spend more time with candidates, local issue campaign staff and elected representatives because access is not as limited as it usually is to those who hold state or national offices. With increased access comes increased influence by local constituents, and depending on how early one gets involved, it may even be possible to join the campaign staff of certain campaigns. When trying to get involved in campaigns, many times the candidate is the first person that is contacted, so there may also be a direct line to the candidate.
Local elections also present more opportunities to canvass, register voters, and connect with other constituents about issues affecting the community, but most importantly, local elections present the opportunity for people who want to make a positive difference in their communities to run for office. Local elections are usually the starting point for elected officials who wish to represent their constituents at the state and federal level in the future. If someone would rather not be associated with a particular political party, virtually every jurisdiction has elected offices that play a nonpartisan role in their communities, such as the Supervisor of Elections.
Last but not least, it is imperative that one not lose their enthusiasm about elections if one’s candidate does not win. In politics, there are winners and losers, and this is evident in every election cycle. There will always be another election, and while the issues may be different, both sides need advocates, and thus the cycle restarts. Unfortunately, it is a pity so few people participate in local elections, or know an election is occurring. By focusing on local issues, and explaining how it can affect a person’s everyday life and the future of their community, they might be more interested in getting involved.