Every year there are elections taking place all across the country. While much of the focus nationally is on presidential and midterm elections, local and state races are equally important. This month, several races are taking place that will significantly impact the lives of local communities.
Many elections are taking place on Tuesday, Nov. 2, but in some areas, special elections and runoffs are happening later in the month. Early voting is underway in Louisiana, which has elections on Nov. 13.
Ballotpedia’s Elections calendar also provides an overview of major elections in various states. If you see your state listed but not your county or municipality, double-check with your county election board or secretary of state to determine when your next election is happening.
In some elections, figuring out who to vote for can be a real challenge. Or people may not see the purpose of voting “again” if they already voted. Voting in 2020 was important, but a part of a functioning democracy is continued engagement in all elections, not just the ones that get the most media coverage.
It’s also important to know what is on the ballot and how the different positions and issues impact real life. The Thurgood Marshall Institute published “Leave No Power on the Table: Your Guide to Local Elections,” providing an overview of many positions found at the state and local levels.
“Voting is so much more than the presidential election,” reads the Thurgood Marshall Institute site. “From how police engage with the community to whether public transportation is affordable, safe, and clean to whether affordable housing is being built, local elections shape our communities and impact our lives.”
Often local elections aren’t given the same effort and attention and, as a result, have lower turnout and participation. But the regular action and engagement make a difference and give citizens a voice in how their communities are governed. Participating in local elections is a necessary step in co-governance.
For a look at specific races, check out “What’s On The Ballot” by Daniel Nichanian, evaluating ballot measures and referendums notable races. Nichanian frames it as a “cheat sheet” for upcoming elections, but it is a comprehensive analysis of upcoming races and measures.
Most of the attention on local elections focuses on mayoral races. Here are a few other types of races up for consideration:
– School Board
Between decisions around mask and vaccine mandates and equity across school curriculum and instruction, school board meetings have become a hotbed of activity. School boards are crucial to local governance and can impact the education and well-being of children in a community. Even if you don’t have children, weighing in on the leaders who will shape the future directly impacts the type of people who will develop and later become a part of your community.
– City Council
Depending on a city’s government structure, the city council can function as a check on the mayor. They generally have lawmaking functions at the local level, introducing and passing ordinances and the annual budget. Some places use the term alderman to refer to the councilmembers. Local laws can include public health and safety, city zoning regulations and even criminal justice reform.
– County-Level Offices
County-level offices vary from state to state but often include sheriffs, county commissioners, and prosecutors. In recent years, there has been a push to elect sheriffs and prosecutors who are more community-focused in the administration of their duties. Sheriffs are generally county-level law enforcement officials. In some states, the budget from the sheriff’s office is fixed by state statute rather than the county commission.
Prosecutors represent the government’s interest in charging and pursuing criminal cases. There is often broad discretion in the types of charges prosecutors seek and the type of punishment administered.
County commissioners are county-level decision-makers overseeing the county budget. As elections are administered at the county level, county commissioners play an essential role in ensuring the basic building blocks of democracy are operating smoothly.
– Ballot Questions
Voters may even have a ballot measure, question or referendum up for consideration. Question 2 in Minneapolis seeks to redefine how the city handles public safety by creating a new Department of Public Safety and disbanding the police department. The new department would answer to the city council and include police officers as needed for the city’s protection and other services and supports like mental health responders.
In addition to the local elections, New Jersey, Virginia, and Washington all have statewide elections on Tuesday. While some pundits have positioned the hotly contested Virginia race as a post-2020 test for Democrats, there is much more at stake regarding community engagement and moving the state forward.
What matters most is taking a minute to know what’s at stake in each election and finding the best information for making an informed choice at the ballot box.