State and Local Elections: Every Vote Counts

Ryan Cole, Sentry Staff Reporter

The United States of America has a growing obsession with national politics. This infatuation is facilitated by perpetual access to news and information, which allows Americans to consume countless hours of reports about the current happenings in the White House and in Congress. We have grown so captivated by the lives of politicians and every decision made in Washington, D.C., that we have put aside the more pressing state and local issues that affect our everyday lives. 

This year, on November 5, State Senate and House of Delegate elections will take place in Virginia. These elections are particularly meaningful because they will determine who has greater influence in the redrawing of district lines after the 2020 census. Unless legislation is enacted to prevent it, this redistricting could result in gerrymandering whereby the party in control will manipulate the legislative district lines to gain the majority of voters in each district.

In order to gain this leverage, the Democrats must win back either the State Senate or House this year. The Republicans hope to maintain control over these two bodies and overrule the Democrat’s control of the governorship.

State elections like these are important, and each voter’s impact is more magnified than on the national level. Sometimes these races can be incredibly close, and come down to just a couple of ballots. This was the case back in 2017 during a tightly contested race for a seat on the Virginia House of Delegates. 

When polling places closed that night, Democrat Shelly Simonds initially appeared to be the victor over Republican opponent David Yancey, but after a recount in which a judge ruled that a single ballot had accidentally been discarded, they were tied.

Ultimately, Yancey was awarded the seat after a random drawing sealed the fate of the election. This result was significant because it gave the Republicans a 51-49 majority in the house.

Yancey’s unlikely road to victory illustrates the importance of voting, especially in smaller-scale elections. Without that one mistakenly neglected ballot, the result of the election would have been entirely reversed, and Simonds would likely have given the Democrats equal representation in the House. 

State elections are of the utmost importance, but it is local leaders whose decisions have the greatest impact on our everyday lives. Schools, public transit, police departments, public safety and affordable housing are all controlled by local government officials.

This year, local elections in Arlington are taking place today and polls will be open from 6 am to 7 pm. On the ballot, two seats on the County Board are up for re-election as well as a position on the school board.

Unfortunately, while the results of these elections are important in Arlington, they are often ignored by the media. As a result, many citizens of Arlington County are ill-informed about local candidates and unaware of  local elections’ importance. 

Even though Arlington is within such close proximity to the nation’s capital, the way to make a difference or get something done is through local government. This is because of the widespread power that the local government has within the community. 

A good example of this would be Arlington’s decision to bring Amazon here. Their arrival is going to have vast effects, both negative and positive, on Arlington’s population and it is the direct result of local government’s decisions.

Unfortunately, the national political scene’s antics often drown out news in our own communities. Stories about Donald Trump’s most recent tweet, or Sean Spicer’s dancing career are provocative and allow for major news organizations to attract a broader audience. However, those stories are not worthy of significant coverage and make a mockery of political journalism. 

By spending all of our time pouring through what often amounts to celebrity gossip, we forget about the local leaders who are actively fighting to make a difference. Those leaders and the issues they are working on are relevant, meaningful stories.

The truth is that much of the public is indifferent about local politics. It is irrelevant whether you want to blame our president who inspires this type of “news,” the newspapers themselves, or the people reading them. We still have a problem.

As Arlingtonians decide whether or not to vote on Tuesday, I certainly hope they will consider their vote’s impact on the community. This is everyone’s chance to make a difference.