Local elections lack meaningful choices

Cuillin Chastain-Howley

Faced with two unpopular candidates, the enthusiasm surrounding this election has been notably low on both sides of the aisle. A common argument made to stir excitement for voting is that one isn’t just choosing a president in these elections — there are many local races that will likely affect our lives much more than the national elections will, and voting in these races can make a tangible difference. However, this argument is only occasionally correct.

Often, local races are even less competitive than national races. In the race for the House seat in Texas’s 10th congressional district, which includes Austin, the 11-year Republican incumbent Michael McCaul is facing the same Democrat that he beat by 30 points in 2014. If you live in a red state such as Texas, there is a very good chance that Republicans will maintain control regardless of who you vote for.

Even the most impactful local initiative on the ballot this November, the $720 million mobility bond to improve Austin’s infrastructure and traffic, may be another foregone conclusion. A pair of dueling polls conducted by Public Policy Polling and Opinion Analysts show vastly different stories. Although Public Policy Polling has the mobility bond up by one point, within the poll’s margin of error, Austin firm Opinion Analysts shows the initiative with a 30 point lead. The Public Policy Polling survey only went to landlines and did not read the language of the proposition to interviewees, which likely skewed the results of the poll to a more conservative viewpoint. This means it’s likely Opinion Analysts have the more realistic projection and that the mobility bond will pass with a safe majority, making the most impactful local initiative on the ballot yet another inevitability.

Using local elections such as congressional races or initiatives as an argument for voting is often wrong, but it also exposes a problem. Knowing that your vote might matter even less in local elections than it does in national elections is a depressing reality. This reality is that the apathy that voters have towards this particular general election has been the norm for years regarding local and municipal elections.

Individual votes in local elections aren’t currently very impactful. If you want your vote to matter in local races in the future, there needs to be much greater awareness of local politics in the general populace. The only way to change the status quo is to mobilize and excite voters. A culture change this dramatic will take years to implement but is the only real solution to a problem this deep-seated. Politicians bear some responsibility for making this change — making more of an effort to mobilize voters and putting up rival candidates in uncontested elections would be a start. Even though competitive, impactful local elections would be ideal, there is a lot of work to be done on the part of voters and politicians before this ideal is a reality.

Chastain-Howley is a rhetoric and writing junior from Dallas.