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Waiting in Line

Why Voter Turnout Matters in Local Elections

2 min read
Waiting in Line
Good Party Politics Team · Jan 23, 2024

In 2017, the Virginia House of Delegates had one of the closest races in a history of close elections. 

Initially, the race between an incumbent Republican and Democratic hopeful for an opportunity to represent the 94th District in Newport News, VA, came down to just 10 votes in favor of the incumbent, Republican David Yancy. Results of that election could have flipped the House to Democrats for the first time in 17 years.  

There were several recounts, and a tie resulted. Then, the decision was put before the Virginia Supreme Court. They struggled with contested ballots until a vote that was counted as a duplicate was awarded to the Democrat, Shelly Simonds, giving her the win by a single vote. Yancy contested that decision.

One year later, the race was finally determined in favor of Yancy after lots were drawn and his name was pulled from a film canister by State Board of Elections Chair, James Alcorn. In the same manner, the 1971 House race in Fairfax, VA, was ultimately decided by pulling the winner’s name from a cup after a tie. 

In the final twist, a rematch after the district was redrawn before the next election threw the seat back to Simonds. 

This demonstrates the power of one vote. But, such close races are less common in state or national elections. As they draw closer to home, election results often come down to a handful of votes. 

However, local elections are often overshadowed by the fanfare of national elections, although they play a critical role in shaping the daily lives of citizens. Voter turnout in these elections is crucial, yet it frequently lags behind that of national polls. 

Join us as we delve into the significance of each vote in local elections, comparing the impact of local versus national issues on voters, and present compelling examples of close races from recent history to encourage voter participation in 2024.


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The Power of Local Voter Turnout

In local elections, the power of an individual vote is amplified. These elections often have lower voter turnout compared to national elections, meaning that each vote carries more weight. 

For example, in a national election, a single vote is one among millions. But, it could be one in just a few thousand - or even a few hundred - when the election is for a local office. This heightened significance can lead to elections being decided by incredibly narrow margins.

Local elections, by their very nature, are closely linked to the community's needs and concerns. This direct impact on daily life makes understanding and participating in local elections vital.

In 2023, several local elections illustrated the power of every single vote. Close races in city councils, school boards, and other local bodies were decided by very narrow margins. 

#1: Westchester County, New York:

  • The position of Supervisor for New Castle, NY, was decided by only three votes after several absentee ballots cast by children were thrown out.

  • In the race for mayor in neighboring Harrison, NY, a write-in candidate bested the incumbent by a single vote. That election was overturned by a judge on the grounds of newly imposed term limit violations. It seems the winning write-in candidate, Ron Belmont, was a five-term city supervisor. Due to the nature of incorporation documents that make Harrison both a town and a village, the two positions are considered the same for election purposes. 

#2: North Carolina: 

  • An At-Large city council seat in Durham, NC was decided by only 571 votes

  • The Chapel Hill, NC town council race was decided by nine votes. 

#3: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 

  • The District 8 City Council seat was retained by incumbent Cindy Bass by just over 400 votes.

Such examples highlight the potential of each vote to sway the outcome of an election, thereby shaping the policy and direction of local communities. The lessons from these elections should serve as a motivation for increased voter turnout in the upcoming 2024 local elections. 

It's essential for voters to realize that their participation holds substantial power. Local governments wield considerable influence over aspects of daily life, and voting in these elections is a direct way to influence decisions that affect local communities.

Local Issues vs. National Issues

When there’s a presidential election in the United States, it occurs every four years after months of campaigning and amid much media attention. In any given year in the U.S., meanwhile, citizens around the country are deciding the direction of their communities in various elections held among the more than 90,000 local governments

Voters often feel more directly impacted by local issues than national ones. While national policies might seem abstract or distant, local issues such as public safety, education, zoning laws, and infrastructure development have an immediate and tangible effect on community members' daily lives. 

Local governments are responsible for maintaining public spaces, local law enforcement, schools, and much more. Their decisions can influence property values, business environments, and the overall quality of life.

Despite their significant impact, local issues frequently receive less media attention and public discourse, leading to a lack of awareness and lower voter turnout. According to one study, as few as 15% of eligible voters turn up to local elections for positions like mayor or city council. School board races net as few as 10% of voters on election day. 

This disparity highlights the need for voters to be more engaged and informed about the workings of their local governments.

Encouraging Voter Turnout in 2024

Given the importance of local elections, it's vital to encourage higher voter turnout in 2024. Voters need to understand that their participation in local elections is not just a right, but a powerful tool to influence the immediate world around them. 

Each individual vote is significantly magnified in local elections, where the outcomes can directly impact everyday life through decisions on local governance, public services, education, and infrastructure. 

These elections, which often fly under the radar compared to their national counterparts, are crucial in shaping the immediate environment and quality of life in a community. 

In order to encourage higher voter turnout, community organizations, local media, and educational institutions play a crucial role in raising awareness about local elections. For example, voter education campaigns can highlight the impact of local government decisions on everyday life and inform citizens about upcoming elections and the candidates running. 

They can also help to demystify the voting process, inform the community about the candidates and issues, and emphasize the impact of local governance on daily life. Even something as simple as same-day registration can increase voter turnout in local elections by 10%.

For a more general perspective, close local elections are often influenced by factors like:

  • Voter Turnout: Lower voter turnout can lead to closer races, as each vote carries more weight.

  • Local Issues: Specific local concerns, such as a controversial development project or zoning changes, especially when they impact schools and development, can sharply divide voters.

  • Candidate Profiles: The background, stance on local issues, and personal appeal of the candidates can significantly influence a close election.

  • Public Sentiment: Shifts in public opinion on critical local issues can play a crucial role in the outcome of local elections.

Remember, local elections can be as diverse as the communities they represent. There are unique dynamics and issues influencing each race.

How Independent Candidates Can Improve Voter Turnout

During a general election year, local concerns can take a backseat to bigger, national issues. Add that factor to the lack of real choice in our leaders, and you have a recipe for voter apathy and low turnout. 

In-off election years, getting voters to the polls poses an even greater challenge. Barring a major problem with widespread implications, they simply aren’t that invested in the outcome.  

For independent and third-party candidates running in local elections, increasing voter turnout can be particularly challenging but also highly rewarding. 

Here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Establish a strong community presence. Since local elections are community-centered, it's crucial for candidates to be visible and active within the community. Attend local events, participate in community discussions, and engage with residents regularly.

  2. Focus on local issues. Tailor your campaign to address specific local issues that are important to your community. Demonstrating a deep understanding of these issues and offering practical solutions can resonate well with voters.

  3. Leverage social media and online platforms. Utilize social media to reach a broader audience. Share your message, engage in online discussions, and use these platforms to inform and mobilize voters.

  4. Create a compelling narrative. As an independent or third-party candidate, you need to stand out. Craft a narrative that highlights your unique perspectives and how they differ from the mainstream candidates.

  5. Initiate grassroots mobilization. Engage in grassroots campaigning to build a strong base of support. This includes door-to-door canvassing, community meetings, and volunteer-driven outreach.

  6. Forge and nurture local alliances. Collaborate with local groups, organizations, or influential community figures who share similar values or goals. Their endorsement can lend credibility and expand your reach.

  7. Promote voter education. Educate the electorate about the importance of their vote in local elections and how it impacts their daily lives. Clear, concise, and impactful messaging is key.

  8. Conduct personalized voter contact. Personal interaction can have a significant impact. Tailor your communication to address the specific concerns and interests of different segments of your community.

  9. Host engaging events. Organize town halls, debates, and other events that provide a platform for you to share your views and for voters to voice their concerns.

  10. Demonstrate transparency and integrity. In local politics, trust is paramount. Be transparent about your positions and maintain a high level of integrity throughout your campaign.

  11. Offer clear calls-to-action. Encourage supporters to vote, volunteer, and spread the word. Make it easy for them to understand how they can contribute to your campaign.

  12. Track and adapt your outreach and engagement strategies. Continuously monitor the effectiveness of your strategies and be willing to adapt. Local elections can be dynamic, and staying responsive to changing circumstances is crucial.

  13. Utilize data effectively. Use voter data and analytics to target your campaign efforts more effectively. Understanding voter demographics, previous voting patterns, and key issues can help tailor your message.

  14. Foster a sense of community ownership. Make voters feel like they are part of something bigger. A community-driven campaign can create a strong sense of ownership and motivate voters to participate.

Voter turnout in local elections is crucial for the health of our democracy. The power of each vote is significantly magnified in these races, and the issues at stake have a direct impact on our daily lives. 

Remember, each local election is unique, and what works in one community may not work in another. It's important to understand the specific dynamics of your community and tailor your strategies accordingly.

Close margins in several 2023 local elections are a testament to the power of every single vote. As we move further into 2024, it is imperative for voters to recognize the importance of their participation in local elections and make their voices heard.

Better Civic Engagement Starts Here

Approaching the local elections of 2024, it’s imperative for citizens to understand the significance of their vote. Participation in local elections is not just a civic duty. It’s also a powerful tool to bring about change and ensure that local governments reflect the will and needs of their communities. 

That means it’s crucial for voters to stay informed and engaged, and exercise their right to vote in these pivotal elections. You can start by joining Good Party’s growing community of active independent candidates and voters. 

We’re committed to providing the kind of resources and support Americans need to make informed decisions about their representation. For example, our blog keeps you up-to-date about important election-related topics, and our glossary clearly explains political terminology. 

You can even share your knowledge and ideas with other independents by interacting with the Good Party Community on our Discord server. 

Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash


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Civic Engagement
Electoral Reform
How to Run for Office
Voter Education
Independent Candidates
Waiting in Line
By Good Party Politics Team
The politics team is focused on transforming the political landscape by promoting transparency, accountability, and positive change. They aim to engage citizens in the political process, encourage informed decision-making, and support candidates who prioritize the common good. Their mission revolves around creating a more fair and just political system, fostering collaboration, and breaking down traditional barriers of partisanship.