The Student News Site of Chatham University


The Student News Site of Chatham University


The Student News Site of Chatham University


Why it's important to vote in local elections


The 2013 general elections are here. Candidates for the mayoral race and many more local public offices as well as a variety of citizen initiatives in various states will be on the ballot on November 5.

Only a small percentage of the United States citizens pay any attention to this day. Paige Carrigan, 21 and a senior at Chatham University is not one of those people. “I do it because I can. [It’s] something I’ve grown up with. My parents and teachers taught me it’s a good thing to do,” she said. “It’s important enough that you have your right to vote, because so many people around the world can’t express their opinions.”

Carrigan does not represent all of the voter community though; only about 20 percent of the voter population takes part in local elections. In an effort to increase participation and interest in local elections, the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics (PCWP) took the initiative and asked an expert panel to talk about citizenship and involvement in local elections. The event was held on October 22 and moderated by Dana Brown, PCWP executive director.

Jennie Sweet-Cushman, a panelist and visiting assistant professor of political science at Chatham, said that as a result of the very low participation in the local elections, they are being decided by just a very few people.

One of the important reasons Cushman attributed to the poor participation in local elections is that there is not a lot of information at the local level. People are not really familiar with the issues, the candidates and how the campaign has played out because local elections are covered differently in the national media. People have to work hard to find out what’s going on, and since they have limited time, research is not always possible for them.

“It is your right, as a citizen of the United States, to exercise it and vote,” Cushman said, referring to the Women’s Right Movement in the 1900s and how hard women fought for the right to vote. She added that it would be a shame to those who struggled if women do not exercise this very right.

This is something Carrigan understands. “Women couldn’t vote before the 1920s,” she said. “I would do it for those women, because if I lived back then, I would have wanted my voice to be heard.”

Cushman added that taking part in local elections is important for preserving the health of the democracy of this country and for holding the elected leaders accountable. Elected officials know that young people don’t usually vote, so when they’re making policy decisions, it’s a lot easier to “put the meat of the young people on the back burner,” and only consider the people who will vote in their policy making decisions. Cushman asserts that politicians will pay more attention to the issues that concern the young people once they start voting.

Susan Hockenberry, executive director of the Local Government Academy (LGA) also emphasized the importance of voting in the local elections, stating that local governments exist within an intergovernmental system that is totally dependent on one another. The interplay between the state, local and national levels of government is incredibly important to the effectiveness of governmental period. The importance of those local elections, Hockenberry said, is to decide who is in charge of vital local services.

“Even though we had a very serious critical shutdown of the national government, we still as citizens avail ourselves to a number of important services, and those services are important, not just because they’re convenient to have, but because they actually contribute to the economic competitiveness and the quality of life in our regions, and the regions are the economic engines of the country,” she said.

Anette Shimer, Vice President of the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh provided the audience with websites that include necessary information for polling place locations and viewing ballots, as well as information about candidates and explained further about the process of voting.

Marita Garrett, candidate-elect for Wilkinsburg Borough Council and a Chatham graduate student, prompted the audience to get involved in their communities just as she is, explaining that the hardest part is being dedicated and interested. “Locals affect your day-to-day life, and this is where your vote actually makes a difference.”

Voting Resources

Polling Place Locator and View Ballot

Information about Candidates

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