I’ll be the first to admit that for years I hated these last few weeks before Election Day. I hid every time I heard a knock on my door during weekend afternoons, peering behind closed curtains at the folks with telltale pamphlets and clipboards in hand. These unexpected visitors would most likely be Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons in any other month of the year, but October meant local politicians. Because October also meant football and playoff baseball, every doorbell ring resulted in quickly lowering the volume on the TV and hiding until they moved on to the neighbor’s house.
I despised those mid-dinner phone calls asking whether I’d thought about voting for Candidate X. I begrudged anything that got between me and my Hot Pockets, but I was even more upset that they’d found my phone number at all. Security lapses like these meant it might be easier for my old high school and college development offices to find me and hit me up for more donations.
To be honest, I hadn’t thought about voting for any candidate if it weren’t a presidential election. Local elections weren’t “important” enough for me to wake up early and hit the voting booth. I always figured that my neighbors would take care of that because I was too busy. I rarely knew anyone in the races and therefore felt unqualified to participate. What if I voted for the wrong person? Worse yet, would it matter that I did?
This is the thinking that sees voter turnout during midterm or non-presidential elections drop significantly, often resulting in only 20% to 40% of eligible voters bothering to show up at the polls. This abdication of our most important duty as American citizens is usually greeted with a collective sigh. We accept it even though we’re not happy with it, much like car taxes or Kim Kardashian.
As I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into adulthood, however, I’ve come to realize the critical importance of local elections. Refusing to take the time to become educated on the people in your town asking to spend your money is no different than handing your wallet to a stranger and saying, “I trust you’ll do the right thing.” In the end, you give up your right to complain about the politicians you get when you never participated in the vetting and voting process that put them there.
Luckily, the advent of social media has made it easier than ever to bone up on your local candidates before that first Tuesday in November. People love to complain about how “negative” things can be when discussing things online, but the fact is we’re now having conversations at local levels that many citizens never had a chance to experience before. If nothing else, most candidates have an online presence where they share their platforms and detail upcoming appearances and debates. There are Facebook pages and Twitter hashtag discussions for most every town in Connecticut that are hosting lively discussions on the people running for office. In the time it takes me to heat up my Hot Pocket, I can open up this newspaper’s website and read the opinions of my neighbors on these candidates, then add my own thoughts to the comments section.
Local elections matter, and if you think your vote doesn’t, you’re wrong. These elections have the most direct impact on you, and you on them should you choose to participate. As for me, I now take those phone calls and open the front door to candidates in October. I just hope they don’t share my contact info with my old school’s development office.