The Way To Be Vocal Is To Vote Local
• Elections have local and global consequences whether you participate in them or not.
During the Virginia House of Delegates election of 2017, control of the entire House of Delegates came down to not just one vote, but one film canister. Due to state laws regarding election ties, both Shelly Simonds’ (D) and David Yancey’s (R) names were placed into 35mm film canisters to be drawn from a bowl. A 50R-49D split House of Delegates waited for a winner of the seat to be named and control of the Assembly determined.
This is not the only election that hung on a razor-thin margin. Even larger races such as the 1974 New Hampshire U.S. Senate race -- a race that was eventually redone through a special election -- was within 2 votes after recounts.
This wasn’t even the first time a Virginia House of Delegates race ended in a tie, with the 19th District coming down to a tie in 1971. Back then, ties were decided in more traditional manners, pulling names in envelopes from a cup.
Elections have consequences, and your vote matters. While many remember “hanging chad” issues with the 2000 election, seldom do Presidential elections end up so close. However, local elections, with fewer voters, can often be decided by a few dozen votes, especially in elections with a large field of candidates. Furthermore, these elections can have a much more direct impact on your day-to-day life.
If you asked the average person what the roles and duties are of a position like State Controller, you might get answers varying from something to do with finance to the person-in-charge of air traffic. In reality, this job holds enormous power in your financial life and how a state’s financial rules are interpreted and implemented.
Roles like County Assessors help value land accurately for taxation, and while that might seem a tad dry, their decisions and policies have wide-ranging impact on the community. An assessment can increase taxes substantially, and accusations of bias in assessments abound, especially during our current national reckoning on racial bias. Your vote for something as seemly inconsequential as who values land can have an impact for generationas.
Furthermore, the story of the City of Bell scandals shows that an unchecked and unmonitored government, even at the local level, can cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer waste and embezzlement. That is not to put the blame on local voters. When we elect people we put our trust in them, not expecting them to break that trust. Yet an effective democracy requires an active and informed electorate.
When you cast your vote, take these points into consideration as you walk into the polling booth. Your vote is valuable and matters, especially in local elections where one vote holds a much larger impact on the outcomes.
Every race is important as each person you’re voting for impacts your life. You might see the impact of a local election much more clearly with your day-to-day activities than a national race.
And be informed when you vote. Almost all elections require financial disclosure of donors, and it is necessary that ‘We the People’ demand more sunlight in our campaign finance disclosure laws to ensure transparency.
For those who might question the impact of down-ballot races, think about budget decisions regarding local police and emergency services. Think about the impact of a school board on the education that our children. Think about the roads and parks that we enjoy. These things are not at the top of the ballot but buried deeper in the city council, school board, and state assembly races too often ignored.
As we all go to polls or mail our ballots, take care to inform yourself, and remember that the first Tuesday in November isn’t the only election that matters. Your voice matters each and every time.
On Jan. 4, 2018, David Yancey’s name emerged from a small black 35mm film canister. He won the seat and the Virginia Republicans held the House of Delegates majority, 51 to 49. A little less than two years later on Nov. 5, 2019, Yancey would lose by 17.3 points to Shelly Simonds, the same woman he’d beaten by the luck of the draw. Each and every one of those votes mattered, so as the saying goes, be vocal and vote local.