I have been a professor of political science since 1981. I often get asked whether it is worth taking the time to get registered and then vote regularly. Lots of people, particularly young people, tell me that they do not vote because they think elections make no difference to their daily lives.
Given the amount of scandal and corruption in the U.S. political system, I can fully understand people feeling that there is no purpose in participating in such a dishonest system. However, I still think that it is a mistake to not vote in elections. The outcomes of elections in the U.S. do mean a lot for our nation and we should participate in these elections.
In the American political system, local elections such as those we are having in Leavenworth Nov. 7 are quite important. In order to understand how important such local elections are in the United States, you have to go back to the founding of our nation. The American Revolution of 1775-1783 was in large part a revolt of the colonists against what they saw as an attempt by the British government to deprive them of their right to govern themselves. From the foundation of the first colonies in the early 17th century until the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, the colonies had been governed by what the British called “salutary neglect.” The British government in London played little role in governing the colonies. After 1763, the British government sought to put much more power in the hands of the central government and the colonists’ resistance to these attempts at centralization culminated in American independence in 1783.
After our war of independence, the newly established United States wanted nothing to do with a strong, centralized federal government. The initial governing document of the republic, the Articles of Confederation, provided for only a weak central government. The leaders of the U.S. quickly realized that if the new republic was going to survive in a hostile world, it needed a stronger central government, so they called a convention in 1787 and wrote a new constitution that established a federal government with real power.
However, while the founders of the republic did create a new central government more powerful than had existed under the Articles of Confederation, they were aware from their experiences with the British government of the potential abuses of centralized power. So they left considerable political power in the hands of local governments.
Since the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, the power of the federal government has expanded considerably. But it is important to recognize that a lot of the most important issues in contemporary U.S. politics are settled at the local level. While the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill was exaggerating when he famously said, “All politics is local,” there is a lot of truth in his comment.
In particular, as I talk to people in Leavenworth about our city’s problems, two issues that come up repeatedly are education and crime. In America, responsibility for both of these two important issues is largely at the local level. The federal government and the Kansas state government provide a lot of the financing involved in fighting crime and improving education, but the actual administration of policies with respect to these issues is the responsibility of local government.
So I would respectfully urge all of my fellow Leavenworth residents to get out and vote Nov. 7. The people that we elect in those elections are going to have a much bigger impact on our daily lives than many realize.
Ernest Evans is a Leavenworth Times columnist.