CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- According to the South Carolina Election Commission (SCEC), 72.1% of people turned out to vote in the 2020 general election, but in 2018 only 55% of eligible voters cast a ballot. Those numbers are even lower in off-year municipal elections, like those for school board, mayor, and councilmen.
What causes voter turnout to be so low in municipal elections and why should you vote?
Every four years, the President, Vice President, and one-third of the Senate, and the entire House of Representatives are elected and every two years the midterms are held. But, many people do not know that states hold local elections in off-years, too. Off-year elections, typically held in odd-numbered years, qualify as holding an election where there is no presidential or congressional candidate on the ballot. SCEC spokesman John Michael Catalano said that many people not knowing when an election is can contribute to lower turnout and that is something the commission is trying to change.
“In South Carolina, all municipal elections are not on the same day,” he said. “More and more municipalities are moving their elections to all fall on the same day so it’s easier to promote this big day.”
Local elections are less representative
When elections are held in off-cycle years, they tend to result in local governments that are unrepresentative of the average voter, according to the Manhattan Institute. That is because only a slice of voters choose the officials that govern everyday life. A report by Portland State University found that the median age for a voter in a mayoral election is 57 and those who do vote tend to come from more affluent neighborhoods. A lack of representation in voting puts the power in the hands of special interests.
“When you have less people showing up to vote you don’t get a good sense of what the community actually wants,” Catalano said. “When you only have such a small voice of the population coming on election day to pick their representative, it’s less likely that that person is going to be representative of the whole community.”
Lower turnout means your vote counts more
One common excuse people use for not voting is that they think their vote will not matter. That could not be further from the truth when it comes to local elections. Your one vote can make a HUGE difference. According to Catalano, several recent South Carolina elections have been decided by just a handful of votes and he expects that to happen again this year.
“There will be plenty that will be decided by one vote, two votes, a handful of votes, or even tied,” Catalano said. “Your vote can help decide an election.”
Local officials make the decisions that affect your everyday life
The most important reason why you should care about voting in local elections, especially during off-years like 2021, is because the officials chosen in these elections make the decisions that directly affect daily life. City officials determine what ordinances are put into place, what projects are funded by tax dollars, and maintain critical infrastructure. Every political decision begins at the local level and voters are more likely to feel the direct impacts of local government decisions rather than federal decisions.
“You’re electing the people that set the rules that generally have the most impact on your day-to-day life, Catalano said. “The decisions that these elected officials are making impact us directly and usually quickly.”
Election Day is November 2. Visit scvotes.org to find your polling place, check your registration, and see what candidates are on the ballot.