Having worked many local political campaigns, I have expended copious amounts of time and energy trying to convince people to go out and vote for candidates for local office. My main rival in this endeavor has been voter apathy. This past November, a battle ensued over a Virginia House seat in Newport News (VA-94), Va. as Challenger Shelly Simonds (D) tied with incumbent David Yancey (R) (Yancey had originally led by 10 votes, but a recount put Simonds in the lead by one; however, a ballot that had originally been discarded during the recount ended up being tallied for Yancey).
In the end, the race was decided by pulling a name out of a bowl. Had this been any other race, such a result may not have received much attention. However, Simonds' loss put the Republicans in the majority in the House of Delegates 51-49. One vote could have changed the composition of the state house significantly.
According to the Virginia Department of Elections, voter turnout in 2015 (an off-year) was a whopping 29.1 percent. The gubernatorial race bumped that percentage up to 47.6 percent in 2017, but still, only have of registered Virginians voted. Although there may be legitimate reasons that people may not be able to get out and vote, such restrictions do not necessarily apply to the majority of those who do not turn out. Individuals in Virginia are able to vote absentee by mail for a variety of reasons (disability, illness, working more than 11 hours a day and going to school outside of the district in which you are registered are all valid reasons).I cannot stress enough how important local elections are. Most of the interactions that an individual has with the government in their everyday lives occur at the local level. Land use issues, property disputes and any number of pedestrian concerns are all addressed by local government offices (though I would like to emphasize, having worked in a county supervisor's office, that all issues pertaining to roads, including potholes, should be referred directly to the Virginia Department of Transportation, unless you live in Arlington or Henrico County). And the people at the helm of these institutions are frequently elected in the off-year races that nobody votes in. I understand that sometimes politics (especially in this day in age) can be tiring or even repulsive, but in local races, it has an impact on our every day lives. Although one may be bombarded by a dizzying array of information regarding national officeholders, news regarding the actions of local officials can be much more sparse.Still, city or neighborhood publications often do an excellent job of covering public hearings, town halls and other forms of community events. Taking the time to read these outlets is crucial as it allows one to make an informed decision about the future of their locality, which is as important now as ever. One ballot can change everything, and it may just be yours.