Cast your ballot on Election Day, even if it’s not for president

It’s no secret that many people, especially among the younger generation, are disenchanted with politics. These apathetic sentiments have gone so far as to convince a fair number of potential voters that it’s en vogue to abstain from the voting process altogether, with the rationale that neither presidential candidate fits the bill. But many forget about one not-so-tiny thing: the rest of the ballot.

Politicians at the state and local levels are our closest and most accessible ties to government, yet ironically they garner the least amount of attention come election season – or any time at all.

I’ve had the privilege of working with and volunteering for politicians at these levels. If I gained one thing from the experience, it’s the realization that they should not be ignored.

These are the people who are familiar with the most pressing issues in our communities. They study their districts closely to better know the people they represent. When citizens need help or wish to participate in government at the most basic level, they care.

Presidential races always appear more relevant and exciting on the surface. But when it comes down to it, politics at the lower levels of government have the real power to influence lives. Just look at the two constitutional amendments on the ballot in Minnesota: one to change whom we marry, the other to change how we vote. Politics don’t get much more intimate than that.

Granted, much of what occurs at the national level also has a substantial impact on our personal lives. The passing and Supreme Court approval of the Affordable Care Act is a prime example. But legislation like that doesn’t come around once every year, or even once every decade.

Some complain that national politics are out of touch with the lives of average citizens. They are among the many who bemoan a lack of power; theirs is just another voice to be drowned out in a sea of millions who want a say in our system of government.

Not true. At the local level, even a handful of ballots can matter. For example, former Minnesota House Representative David Bly D, whose district encompasses Northfield, lost his seat in the 2010 election by a mere 37 votes. That’s one floor of a St. Olaf dorm’s-worth of people who could have bridged the difference.

It even happens at the federal level. Current United States Sen. Al Franken, who underwent a vote recount during the 2008 election, won office by a margin of fewer than 300 votes.

It’s an unfortunate reality that many of us don’t even know the names of our local representatives. But when all is said and done, these are the people who really make things happen in our everyday lives.

That’s why, even if you don’t vote for Obama or Romney on Tuesday – or any of the other presidential candidates on the list – you should at least cast your ballot for your local politicians.

Opinions Editor Kate Fridley ’14 is from Apple Valley, Minn. She majors in political science with concentrations in management studies and Middle Eastern studies.

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