While it is early in the 2016 Presidential race, conversations regarding it already dominate both the media and our community. Not a day goes by where there isn’t discussion about the latest in Trumpmania or whether your fellow classmates are “feeling the Bern”. However, ask any student what their opinion is on the upcoming election for Virginia’s State General Assembly, and you will mostly be met with blank stares.
Fortunately for those students, it is not entirely their fault. In Government class, the state and local government unit is mostly brushed aside in the curriculum as state politics just doesn’t have the same sexy characteristics of national campaigns. That is probably one of the contributing factors to the dismal youth turnout rate in the 2013 Virginia Gubernatorial race of only 26 percent of eligible voters age 18-29, according to a study done by Tufts University.
Why should young people care about state and local elections? Compared to Presidential and even congressional races, state and local elected officials can have a much greater impact on our lives. Members of the General Assembly decide issues such as what is taught in Virginia public schools, how much funding goes towards education and whether funding is provided for new road restoration projects. Locally elected county officials also decide things like the amount to be paid in property taxes, what times the schools start and what land can be developed.
Young people, especially high schoolers, may not care as much about state or local elections. However, there is one constituency that does, the elderly, and they vote in droves. By not voting in these elections or at least paying attention so they are informed when they can vote, young people are allowing other constituencies such as the elderly to make decisions for them.
In elections like Virginia’s 34th House district, which covers parts of Fairfax and Loudoun, the most recent race was decided by only 324 votes according to the Virginia Department of Elections. With many close races, especially in the Northern Virginia area, young people have an opportunity to make a difference and have their voice heard, either by voting when they are eligible, or by simply paying attention and advocating on issues important to them.