With election day just weeks away, most of the attention is (rightfully) steered toward Donald Trump and Joe Biden. But even if your preferred presidential candidate doesn’t win the general election, your down-ballot voting choices have the power to greatly impact your local community, says Jennifer Edwards, senior director of digital engagement and democracy at Color Of Change.
“There’s been a national emergency, a health emergency,” says Edwards. “It’s not just about voting for a president who can bring change. It’s actually about making sure that your mayor and governor are also aligned with the types of changes that you want to see in your community.” For example, the type of precautions that your state is taking to reduce the amount of people infected by the coronavirus is a function of your governor, she adds.
“This is a time to remind people that they actually are hiring and firing those roles as well, that if you see that your governor and mayor and city council member have not been up to the task or they’re not qualified to be able to lead in this moment, you have the power to also take them out of office,” says Edwards.
District attorneys also have a huge impact on the communities they serve, too. “An elected district attorney can actually make the decision to eliminate cash bail, which keeps poor people in jail just because they can’t afford to pay their way out,” says Edwards. “They could implement charging and sentencing review panels to make sure that there are equitable and consistent outcomes regardless of your race.” This, she says, means that no longer can a Black person be charged differently than a white person for the same crime. District attorneys can also choose to not arrest juveniles or children in different jurisdictions. “I think we need district attorneys who are committed to our values and recognize that our communities need change,” says Edwards.
Local elections are one of the primary drivers of change in your community, explains Rachael Cobb, PhD, chair and associate professor of government at Suffolk University.
“Your daily life is an experience in local politics, even if you’re not aware of it,” says Cobb. Local elections put people in power who decide things like whether your community has curbside composting, if your street gets cleaned (and how often), how trash is dealt with, and how much land should be used for public parks. “The quality of the air you breathe, the quality of the streets that you’re walking on or running on or exercising on, or access for people with disabilities—all of that is tied to what is happening at the most local level,” she says.
Knowing who is going to be on your ballot for state and local elections before you show up to the polls is crucial. Sites like Ballotpedia and Voter411 make it easy by allowing you to enter your address and pull up everyone on the ballot in your area. To learn more about the candidates and the issues you’ll vote on, make a point to read local papers and websites. You can also turn to organizations you trust for their endorsements. For example, Color Of Change has endorsed dozens of candidates throughout the country for various seats.
Once you’ve done your research and know what a particular candidate stands for, share that information with your friends and family.
“The type of trusted messengers that are effective are the people that you speak to every day,” says Edwards. “It is effective to get a call or text from someone that you know rather than a cold text from someone you don’t know reminding you to vote. Once people have the right information, you can infuse it into things that they’re already planning, potential events that they’re already going to.” For example, if you attend a virtual church service, you can provide your congregation with links to helpful websites.
As November 3 approaches, don’t forget the power of your vote and your ability to reshape your community. “It starts with us,” says Edwards.