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If you want your vote to really count, vote local

Nov 3, 2015

Today is Election Day, if you hadn’t noticed, and the safest prediction anyone can make is that turnout will be terrible. The vast majority of eligible voters won’t vote at all.

This is what they call an “off-off year election,” meaning that no major statewide or national races are on the ballot; no president, governors or senators.

But if anyone thinks this is not an important election, think again. 


As the late great Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill used to say, “all politics is local.”  Tip borrowed the phrase from an old Washington reporter who coined it, but, hey, that’s research.

Tip was, in fact, more accurate than he probably knew. I hate to say this, but your one vote is unlikely to decide a presidential election. As we’ve all painfully learned, there is no guarantee that the people we vote for will do what they promise anyway.  

However, your vote can have much more impact on the local level.

You can have a significant say in whether to buy new technology for your schools or tax yourselves to fix the sidewalks – and if you vote yes, they really will get fixed.  Your local mayor is also probably more willing to listen to you than your congressman.

This year, I think there is somewhat more awareness of how important local elections are than usual. This is perhaps due in part to the utter failure of the legislature to address many of our most pressing needs, such as the roads.

But there are also several truly significant elections. Disgraced lawmakers Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat are trying to get their old jobs back, less than two months after they were thrown out of the legislature.

In Flint, Mayor Dayne Walling is trying to win reelection in the aftermath of the city water scandal, where voters are asking what the mayor knew and when he knew it.

There will also be a primary election for a new legislator in Grand Rapids, to replace Brandon Dillon, who quit to become chair of the state Democratic Party.

Those are the headliners. But there are interesting and significant millage elections in dozens of places all over the state.

Keego Harbor, a microscopic city in Oakland County, is holding a vote on a recreational marijuana ordinance which might provide clues as to how a statewide referendum might go next year.

There are tight, bitter, and intensely fought mayor and council elections all over the state. In tiny, sleepy Huntington Woods, a town run by a city manager, two slates of candidates for mayor and council are going at it like the world depended on it.

In nearby Oak Park, Josh Cline, a former staffer for Courser and Gamrat and later whistleblower in the scandal, is helping run another bitter mayoral campaign and has been accused by one local newspaper of putting out a misleading flyer and engaging in dirty tricks.

I’m not going to try to sort that out, but you should, if you live there. And no matter where you live, there is probably something worth voting for or against on today’s ballot.

So you really should vote. After all, even though this is almost a cliché, people did die to give you the right to do that.    

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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