Photo courtesy of NY Times
Election season is seen as of the utmost importance in the United States. With less than three weeks to Election Day, Americans are laser-focused on the race between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden. However, by mainly paying attention to national politics, voters may be disregarding the local elections in their very own towns, cities, and counties, even though these elections could end up mattering the most.
“Local elections are important because they determine the things that really impact the everyday decisions that will truly impact your quality of life,” Los Altos Hills Vice Mayor Kavita Tankha said.
Issues such as the feel of the area’s downtown, the quality of construction, town services, and pathways, are all under the jurisdiction of local governments. These decisions directly impact constituents’ day-to-day lives.
One example of a recent issue that came up before the Los Altos Hills City Council was the proposal to disband the current Los Altos Hills fire district and reincorporate it into the greater Santa Clara County fire district. The city council met and discussed this issue, which had heavy residential backlash, and ultimately decided to keep the Los Altos Hills fire district intact, potentially keeping thousands of people’s safety from being compromised.
Another reason local elections are so crucial to the American democracy is because the people elected to local government can ultimately become the next congressional representatives, senators, and even presidents. A great number of the politicians on the national level started out by serving in their local governments. For example, California Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein both started their political careers in San Francisco government.
“Politicians… come up through the pipeline. They start off in local government… you are part of the process that weeds out the people you don’t like, people that don’t reflect your moral compass and your values,” Tankha said.
Local government allows for constituents’ voices to be heard more easily. If there is an issue someone deeply cares about, that person can go before their city council and advocate for the council to take action. Doing so before Congress would not be as easy. Over time, some of these local issues could start to magnify until they reach the state or national level. One issue Tankha said is prevalent in Los Altos Hills is noise pollution. If enough passionate residents advocate for the reduction of noise pollution before their local governments, the issue could eventually grow until it reaches the Federal Aviation Administration. Therefore, advocating for issues of great importance at a local level can help shape state and national politics.
Before people cast their ballots this Nov. 3, Tankha urges all voters to give local elections as much attention as state and national elections. They could matter more than people think.