Nov. 8 isn’t all about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Those headed to the polls must be diligent about the capacity for change local government wields. Local officials are important — they fund libraries and fix roads, they appoint police and fire chiefs, they set curricula for schools and determine teacher salaries.
Those voting should be as prepared to cast their ballot for city council candidates and local measures as they are for the presidency.
Mayors, council members, supervisors and school board officials implement policies and programs that have more of an immediate impact than executive orders or acts of congress. Those leaders might be able to issue sweeping directives and fund programs to address problems like houselessness, but it will ultimately be local officials making the change.
Councils set funding for city institutions like libraries, which provide internet access, after school programs and literacy support for community members. These services are crucial to Santa Cruz. Voters should be mindful of just how many services the local government actually provides and the impacts they have so close to home.
Voters can get swept up in the excitement and heat between the democratic and republican nominees; but down ballot races are crucial to how cities are run.
Change does not have to be handed down from the president, Congress or the Supreme Court. Communities, through local elections, have the ability to create the change they want to see on the national level in their own cities.
Local officials are also more in touch with their constituents — many Santa Cruz council members hold jobs and careers outside of their elected office.
Richelle Noroyan, works at UC Santa Cruz, and Pamela Comstock, who works at a nearby tech company, are Santa Cruz city council members. Local politicians are more rooted in the communities they represent than President Barack Obama, Senator Barbara Boxer or Congressman Sam Farr. Though these faces represent politics, often times it is local government officials that are doing local heavy lifting.
Santa Cruz County turnout is expected to hit an all-time high in two weeks according to preliminary calculations. More than 87,000 vote by mail ballots were issued for the primary election this summer, a record high amount, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel. However, American local election turnout is historically much lower.
In the 2014 midterm election, the voter turnout was less than 37 percent, the lowest rate since World War II. But local elections showed around only one in five people turnout for mayoral elections.
The stakes are high in Santa Cruz. Many students decide to vote in their hometowns via mail-in ballots. Renters in Santa Cruz make up 43 percent of the population, and students make up about 31 percent.
In national, or even statewide elections, millions of votes are cast. In Santa Cruz elections, each individual vote carries much more weight and capacity to make a difference. We must be responsible community members and vote in local elections if we have the privilege.
Local elections are the heart of American democracy. While the changes local officials make are on a smaller scale than other offices on the ballot this November, that does not undermine their importance.
Presidents lead the country. Local officials lead the cities that people call home.