Why Off-Year Elections Matter


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In contrast to the presidential election of 2020 that exhibited 161 million Americans, elections in local cities have seen extremely low voter turnouts. In NJ and VA, there were races to elect governors––gubernatorial races––along with mayoral elections in surrounding cities in which the rest of the country didn’t seem interested. But people need to realize the importance of elections besides the national level. Voting, in every election, is the right of Americans, and we are privileged to have that right. We can impact the policies that federal, state, and local governments put in place. There is a huge batch of up and coming voters at Pioneer High School, and it is important to understand why voting will impact the world that we live in.

Over the course of the Coronavirus pandemic, local governments have proven their importance. Specific local policies have shaped Coronavirus responses, especially when school boards made their decisions regarding virtual and in-person schooling these past two years. In Ann Arbor, the Board of Education decided that schools would transition to a virtual platform for the majority of the 2020-2021 school year, and have mandated masks in all schools for the current year. These huge decisions, which have impacted the lives of kids throughout the country for the past two years, have been made by the Board of Education, whose members are voted into office. The seven members who serve on the board get elected or reelected in every even-numbered year and any eligible voter in Ann Arbor may cast ballots for the Board of Education. And because the members can only get elected by voting ballots, voting is critical in seeing district decisions play out, especially with the case of the decisions regarding schools that were made during the pandemic.

On another note, given the increased demand of mail-in ballots for the 2020 Nov. election, city governments, primarily mayors, determined where ballot drop boxes were located and the distance between them. In the weeks preceding the election, however, multiple news stories emerged about American citizens traveling dozens of miles, just to be able to vote. Governors and mayors intentionally spread the boxes apart for mail-in ballots, to prevent an uptick in mailed votes, which they were attempting to discourage. Here in Ann Arbor, Mayor Taylor made sure that drop boxes were conveniently spread throughout the city, enabling the people to vote. Taylor was directly elected to the office that he now holds, and he will be up for reelection in 2022 if he chooses to run. Because of the decision by Ann Arbor voters to elect him, they were able to easily vote in subsequent elections if they chose to do so via mail in ballots. The local governments across the country showed their value in the 2020 election, which proves how important it is that everyone votes, even in lesser publicized elections.

Numbers in Ann Arbor continue to show how little voters care about local elections. In the 2020 census, it was determined that approximately 124,000 people live in Ann Arbor, making it the fourth-largest city in MI. However, with four issues on the ballots of the Nov. 2 election, none of the proposals got more than 19,000 total votes, per washtenaw.org, meaning that less than 15% of Ann Arbor voted. On the ballot, voters were asked to decide how the city should give out large contracts regarding roads and sewers and if city elections should be done via ranked-choice voting. In addition, voters were asked to decide if city administrators should have more spending power to deal with city issues in order to keep up with inflation. All of the four proposals passed handedly, meaning that the ‘Yes’ votes vastly outnumbered the ‘No’ votes. (The closest margin out of the four was still a staggering 12,492 ‘Yes’ votes against 5,570 ‘No’ votes.) In the 2020 presidential election, however, many more people voted––78% of University of Michigan students voted, according to mlive.com, which set a new record high––while Washtenaw County overall reported 217,820 votes in the presidential election, as Biden won the city and county by an overwhelming margin. It seems that when no celebrity figures are on the ballot, people give little thought to voting, despite how crucial local policies have proven to be. 

Of course, there are more publicized implications of off-year elections. In Virginia, a blue state in the 2020 election, Republican Glenn Youngkin beat out Democratic incumbent Terry McAullife. This comes a year before the Congressional midterms, when Republicans are likely to gain control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, given the momentum that they picked up in the 2020 midterm elections. The result of the gubernatorial race in Virginia reaffirms the possible turn of the House to Republicans. Unfortunately, gubernatorial races receive very little attention from voters in other states, which can shape perception of the trend in which the country is going. But knowing the true implications of these elections adds an exciting twist to paying attention to the results of other states’ races. 

Pioneer is made of over 1,800 students, all of whom will be able to vote in a short time. Use that right. Every student should vote in every election beyond the presidential and high official elections. The smaller, local matters can impact lives, as has been proven in recent years. Meanwhile, some countries do not even grant the right to vote. In Saudi Arabia, women only recently received the right to vote in 2015, while in Vatican City, women are still being withheld of their rights. We are extremely privileged to be able to vote freely in the U.S. Every vote matters, and that’s been proven time and time again, from the 1876 presidential election when Rutherford B. Hayes won in a shady backroom deal, to the 2000 presidential election, when George W. Bush famously beat Al Gore by just over five hundred votes in Fla, to the 2020 presidential election when Biden beat Trump in what is still a disputed election. When you can, go out and vote in every available election to influence policies and politicians.