If you want political change, local voting matters

For some DePaul students, this may be the first election they participate in. For others, the first time they voted was during the primary elections. DePaul senior, Amanda Weinper was one of those students. She voted for her first time in March’s primary. She knew exactly who she would vote for in the general election, but when it came to local candidates running for office, she needed more of an aid to help her make the final decisions.

“I had seen the names before on signs on people’s lawns and in store windows, but I didn’t know their policies,” Weinper said.

So when it came to local politics, she ultimately decided to print out a recommended list from the Chicago Tribune. It was a  “cheat sheet” like resource she pulled out of her pocket while she was voting at her designated polling place.

With early voting having already begun and election night nearly a week away, it is important for all voters to become familiar with local candidates on the ballot. The Nov. 8 election does not only have presdential and statewide election candidates on the ballot, local elections will also be voted on. But they are less recognized by the media, thus receiving less attention. It is important to have knowledge of candidates running in local elections since local voting has more of a direct impact on citizen’s lives.

Graphic by Jacqueline Lin

With presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton running the main stage and garnering most of the media’s attention, local elections can easily be over looked. But for those voters who are not convinced by Trump’s flamboyance or Clinton’s dubiousness, deciding to opt out of voting this election should not be an option. Their vote can go a long way when it comes to local races.

“One example, in 2015, there was a super-close election for the aldermanic seat that represents DePaul University, the 43rd Ward. The incumbent ald. Michele Smith won by around 100 votes,” said Zachary Cook, a DePaul political science professor. “If DePaul students had been active and engaged in that election, who knows what they could have been offered in exchange for turning out and voting? The bottom line is voting does give you power but often elected officials are not in a hurry to remind you of that.”

The logic that “my one vote doesn’t matter,” “my vote can’t possibly make a difference,” or “I don’t agree with either candidate, so I won’t vote in this election” is indubitably false. For the past several years, a poll from Governing, a state and localities magazine, displays a slow decline in voter turnouts for local elections. In 2011, the same year Mayor Rahm Emanuel was elected into office,  there was only a 42 percent voter turnout.

Local elections can make a direct difference in issues such as education, infrastructure development, environmental issues and the quality of transportation.

“State and local candidates affect all kinds of issues governing our quality of life. Are schools well funded? That’s fundamentally a state and local issue. Are our streets safe? Local issue. Is higher education funded? Same thing,” Cook said. “State and local politics do not attract the same press as Trump versus Clinton, but (a local election) is very important for anyone planning on staying in Illinois after graduating from DePaul.”

Not only is not voting detrimental, but casting a blind ballot for local candidates can impact the condition of the neighborhood you are living in. It is crucial for students to be informed of who is on their local ballot and what their policies are.

“There can be drastic consequences if you (cast blind votes),” Weinper said. ” You could end up voting for, and help electing, someone you have completely different views than you. That’s almost worse than throwing away or not voting at all.”

DePaul senior Kyle Morrell, whose first time voting was also in the primaries, had a different voting experience. He describes his lack of knowledge on local candidates as an auto-pilot vote.

“I was uninformed and went with my gut. Like a lot of people at DePaul this is the first presidential election I get to vote in,”  Morrell said. “It’s important to know what one can do to maximize the effectiveness of their vote.”

Unfortunately, the trend of first time voters not being aware of who is on their ballot ultimately leads to frustration. Either votes aren’t made or voters fill out their ballot as if they are guessing answers on a scantron test. It is important for first time voters and students to study up on all candidates down the ballot.

For students who are curious what exactly is on their ballot, online resources such as the Chicago Board of Elections website allow registered voters to type in their address prompting them to see who exactly will be on their ballot.

From state representatives to commissioners, the sample ballot is a good tool for voters to glance at who is running locally. Ballotready.com is a bipartisan source which offers voters a guide to different candidates and their political stance. In terms of judges running for reelection on the ballot voteforjudges.com is an online tool which provides judicial evaluation results.

“Many voters don’t know how to assess candidates in judicial elections,” said Sara Baum, director of DePaul’s croak Legal Services. “Many bar associations evaluate judicial candidates and judges who will appear on the ballot, so that voters can educate themselves on these races.”

There are many online websites, which offer voters the opportunity to research their federal, state and local candidates before voting. It is up to the voter to express their democratic right and do their homework before casting a ballot. If political change wants to be seen on a national level, the process begins from the ground up. Making informed votes, not just voting, is part of the social responsibility that comes with being a voter and it ultimately leads to the political change many voters are restless to see.