It’s the term used by many political analysts to describe municipal elections. Falling on odd-number years, they are separate from almost all state and national election cycles, and they usually see, on average, lower voter turnout as a result.
That means, with few exceptions, local officials are elected by less of their fellow residents than are state and federal representatives.
At the risk of beating the same dead horse every municipal election cycle, the decisions made on Nov. 2 will have the most tangible impact on people’s everyday lives. Just look at one issue facing Cheshire at the moment. On the table is a multi-year, multi-million-dollar effort to modernize local school buildings. Everyone from Council to Board of Education members have had a role in devising this plan, and continue to lead the charge to finalize a proposal that will eventually go to a vote at referendum.
The decisions made will impact the quality of education in town as well as the community’s overall affordability, both now and well into the future. Ensuring you have a say in who helps shape those decisions and, ultimately, that future, is critical.
But of course, it isn’t just about building modernization. Those elected on Nov. 2 will help set school curriculum, chart a course for how best to retain and attract local businesses, and determine which development projects get approved. For those who call Cheshire home, it is those decisions that will shape their lives with far more frequency than anything that happens in D.C., despite the “sizzle” of the controversies that emanate from our nation’s capital with great frequency.
Yet, trumpeting the importance of these coming elections is one thing. Actually doing something to promote high turnout is another.
One idea that has been circulated with great frequency is to make Election Day a national holiday. This would seem to be a no-brainer and we hope that elected officials as well as voters put pressure on federal representatives to finally take the leap.
Making Election Day a national holiday for everyone except perhaps the most essential of workers guarantees that virtually no one misses a chance to cast a ballot simply because they have to work. It also allows for people to head to their polling stations at different times throughout the course of the day, making it less likely that certain times will become so busy as to cause problems with lines.
However, since many believe that engagement, when it comes to local elections, is a problem, another move may be necessary. Recently, Michael Hartney, a political science professor from Boston College, wrote a piece for the Manhattan Institute arguing that local “off-cycle” elections should be brought “on-cycle.” Moving elections to even-numbered years and ensuring that they coincide with state and national races would, according to Hartney, increase turnout and engagement.
Hartney’s piece is obviously one side of what we are sure would be a two-way argument about the ease and/or necessity of making such a move. While it seems undeniable that voter turnout would be higher for local elections if they coincided with, say, a Presidential election, would those voters be engaged on local issues? Would municipal candidates be judged based on the merits of their ideas for the future of the community, or caught up in the national election scandals that usually permeate such cycles?
That’s certainly up for debate. Yet, it’s worth having those debates, along with making Election Day a holiday in order to find some way to ensure the most people are casting ballots for their local leaders.
There are a number of election reform concepts being offered at the moment, but it would seem that establishing Election Day as a holiday and/or moving it to an “on-cycle” schedule are two of the less controversial concepts that could have an impact.