In left-leaning online spaces recently, a discourse has started about voting. Or should I say restarted: about the moral implications of voting for the “lesser of two evils,” the efficacy of our individual ballots, and the mix of those same old arguments we have heard over every national election in our lifetimes. And I’ll be honest: I don’t have an answer. Not about Biden versus Trump, not about the best use of your vote next November, and definitely not about the moral implications of shared governance in representative democracy.
What I do know is that today, there will be elections for thousands of state and local offices, and every single one will be decided by only a small fraction of the people impacted by them. And if you can get to a polling place, you should be one of them.
For all of the attention and discontent over our national politics, it’s rare for the person in the Oval Office to have much of an effect on the day-to-day of life in the United States. But the state legislature? The local prosecutor? School board? State and local judges? State constitutions? Governors? They have an outsized influence on even the smallest experiences of our lives, and we’re mostly trained to ignore them.
There are the prosecutors in Mississippi who promise not to pursue abortion prosecutions. There’s a massive list of changes offered for the Texas constitution that could make wealth taxes impossible and alter the funding for everything from water infrastructure to broadband. There’s the highly visible fight to enshrine abortion rights in Ohio, but also to protect it as it exists in Virginia, as both houses of its legislature are up for grabs with a GOP governor ready to roll bodily autonomy back to the last century. There’s a MAGA sheriff in Washington who has reinstated deputies who clearly and repeatedly broke the law, and there’s a battle for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court with an election denier on the ballot and staff for state election certification up for a vote.
And that’s just a fraction of the elections across the country. In my own New York, I am voting for City Council and two budgeting initiatives for schools and sewers. It’s not dazzling or exciting; it is frankly, boring and ordinary. But it’s the work of being a citizen who gets a choice in how my slice of society will run. And I’m grateful for it because when I show up, I know I’m part of the group making decisions instead of the masses having decisions made for them.
Local and state elections are where many of our federal elected officials get their start. These are the ballots that often shape the water we drink and the roads we drive on and the repairs we do or don’t make. This is where Republicans have built up a massive buffer against progressive politics, by deluging school boards, taking over local councils, and investing in the unglamorous and uninteresting parts of government where the power really resides. In many states, Republicans are running virtually unopposed, because there is little to no Democratic Party infrastructure—turnout machines, platforms, even candidates—to get the support that would oust conservatives from office.
So I don’t have an answer about the 2024 election cycle. I can’t tell you if it’s ok to vote for Democrats or a third party or to launch your ballot into the sun or if the Electoral College is going to ruin it for most of us, as usual. It’s not as important as making your vote count right now, in the places that you call home, with the elected officials that the country may never know but who will craft the policy that directly affects your life.
When we talk about voting, most people are thinking big. But the truth is, everything starts small. As the old adage goes: All politics is local.