Local elections: where your vote really matters

There is no disputing that it is an exciting time of year. With the election just a few weeks away, the news is full of stories about the candidates’ latest campaign stops, and the nation is captivated by the presidential debate series.

There is an active national conversation about how to strengthen the economy and about which candidate will best send America in the right direction. With such excitement, it is easy to overlook the local elections and ballot initiatives that also will be decided on November 6. From state, county and city offices to constitutional amendments and levies, there are a variety of other issues about which we should be informed in order to be prepared to cast our ballots responsibly.

Local elections are often decided by very narrow margins. In some districts, one candidate will prevail over another by just 25 votes and even fewer votes can determine the outcome of referenda over school funding and property taxes. Because the scale of these elections can be so small, one vote has the potential to matter so much more in terms of dictating the outcome. In these local elections, the excuses that “I don’t vote because my vote doesn’t count” or “I live in an area that is Republican and I’m Democrat, so I can’t affect the election” just don’t work.

It also doesn’t work to say, “I’m not voting in the local elections because the outcomes don’t matter.” In fact, the outcomes of local elections matter tremendously. Take education, for example. In San Antonio, we are voting on whether to fund “Pre-K for SA,” a program intended to support early childhood education right here in our own neighborhoods. We are also voting for a new member of the State Board of Education, which adopts rules and policies related to classroom instructional materials and curricular guidelines. Although not a panacea, voting may help to begin to correct Texas’ poor record on public education.

Education, however, is not the only issue you might affect in this election. There are State Supreme Court Justices and several law enforcement positions that are also open. This year alone the Texas Supreme Court is deciding on issues related to the use of eminent domain by energy companies to build pipelines, termination of parental rights, liability over diesel spills and health care. Because each Justice serves six years, she or he will hear a variety of cases that could substantially change the direction of law and legal precedent for a number of generations. It is in our best interests to learn more about the issues and candidates to ensure we elect the people we think will best serve us

For many of us, myself included, it will take some time to become familiar enough with the candidates and their positions to responsibly choose. Sample ballots are often available online through your county’s election office. Once you have found yours, you should be able to do some research about the issues and candidates. It may seem a bit tedious and there may not be a ton of information available, but it’s well worth the effort; just a few of us can determine the future of our area.

Sarah Topp is a professor in the department of human communication. She is also the debate team coach.