Illustration by Heather Rose.
Illustration by Heather Rose.

The democratic arena has lost a vital sense of excitement. The level of commitment and connection that compelled citizens to elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt to four consecutive terms is now unimaginable. Even the buzz around Barack Obama in 2008, which led to the highest national turnout in American presidential elections, wasn’t powerful enough to continue the upward shift in voting rates four years later. People need to get excited about politics at all levels for this country to see any change for the better.  

A thriving civil society needs organizations informing the population and relating issues back to individuals’ daily lives. Without that, what culminates is apathetic voters. Instead of searching for as much information as possible before creating political opinions, people seem to feel satisfied with their knowledge after glancing at seven-word headlines.

For many, having an influence on governmental change doesn’t seem likely because of institutions like the Electoral College. A perfect example of this detachment happened during the 2000 presidential elections when George W. Bush won the presidency without the majority vote.

Putting so much hope in the president, an official who has little to do with local issues, could be a big part of why voters feel so powerless. In November 2010, the most recent midterm election, only 98,037 ballots were cast in Santa Cruz County for the gubernatorial election, according to the Two years later, 121,323 ballots were counted in 2012 in Santa Cruz County for the presidential election. Where were those 23,286 votes for the race that affected voters closer to home?   

It’s no secret that voting rates across the board during a presidential campaign year drastically overshadow rates for midterm elections. In the 2010 midterm elections, nearly 40 million fewer people voted for their congressional representatives nationwide than in 2012, a year coinciding with presidential elections, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

The general sense of excitement surrounding the selection of the president is understandable considering he is our military commander and the face of our government. Despite the glamour of national campaigns, local politics allow individuals to overcome the separation from the political sphere and clearly see the results of their votes.

The power in your community rests in the hands of city council members, school board members and mayors, not the president. These races, which receive a fraction of the attention compared to national elections, elect the officials who work on things like parks, new restaurants or stop signs. These officials respond to public sentiment and reshape communities to work toward new goals. The water rationing program that cut Santa Cruz water usage wasn’t developed by Congress — it came to fruition through the collaborative work within Santa Cruz’s local government.

There are many ways one can feel like a “big fish” in the political arena. Local elections obviously don’t have as large of a turnout, so one vote becomes proportionately powerful.  Typically ignored by most registered voters, primary elections allow voters to choose the official party candidates who will run against each other in November.         

This June, an event occurred that shocked political analysts nationwide. Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, lost his spot as the Republican nominee for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. This happened in a primary election of all places! A representative who had served for more than a decade and grotesquely outspent his opponent lost his chance in an election most people in his district didn’t even participate in.

Politics are frustrating — things don’t seem to change and important issues don’t seem to be dealt with. But continually removing oneself from the political equation won’t help. Elections constantly occur, and there are those who go out and make their voices heard every chance they get and those who opt out. The people you disagree with, the people who support the policy decisions you find either irresponsible or ridiculous are organized and their voices are heard, and heard loudly. It’s time to get organized, discuss policy matters with those around you and form opinions on issues and candidates.