The power of the people is stronger than the people in power.
Government is more than a handful of elected representatives; it is the millions of people who have entrusted them with the power to make decisions that impact their lives.
Government often feels far away in Washington, D.C., mired in chaos and infighting about healthcare, Social Security and taxes. But state and local elected officials have a huge affect on our day-to-day lives.
The election on Nov. 6 will allow voters to select not only people who will make decisions at the national level but also state representatives who will make decisions about healthcare, roads, schools, taxes, businesses, land, air and water quality, housing costs and much more. In terms of day-to-day impact, the decisions made by local and state representatives have at least an equally big affect on our lives as those made in D.C.
Ideally everyone who is eligible would participate in electing our lawmakers, but many people choose not to vote. Only 58 percent of eligible voters participated in the 2016 presidential election. In past Wisconsin midterm elections, the average voter turnout has been 40 percent. As a result, only a fraction of the people in our country and state have determined who will make important decisions that impact the lives of everyone.
While politics may seem intimidating and/or frustrating, the answer is not to tune out or sit out elections. When we don’t vote, we are relinquishing power to the few that do; and the representatives elected may not care about the things that are important us.
It’s important to pay attention and participate, even knowing that the system is flawed and that candidates aren’t perfect. When we participate, we vote for people who most closely align with our ideals; the people we believe will help to shape the future to fit our vision. Not voting also may mean giving a leg-up to someone who doesn’t necessarily share the same priorities.
The beauty of our system is that as voters, we get a chance to re-evaluate our representatives every few years so if someone isn’t representing us the way we want, we can work to replace them.
Some people feel that one vote won’t make a difference; but local and state elections have been won and lost by the slimmest of margins. Legislation to ensure minimum wage protections, women’s suffrage, marriage protections and safeguards for our environment all began at the local and state level when voters chose people who made those issues a priority. Elections matter and so does every vote in determining the representatives who will make decisions for us on what is important.
When you decide you want to vote, you will first need to register. You can check if you are registered online at MyVote.WI.gov. You can still register at your local clerk’s office until the close of business on Nov. 2 or at the polls on election day. Statewide, 20 percent of eligible voters have been purged since the 2016 election; in Kenosha County, that is 18,000 voters. Even if you’ve voted in the past, it is important to confirm you are still registered before election day.
Proof of residency is required to register. MyVote.WI.gov will also help you find your polling location, see a sample ballot and apply to vote absentee (no reason necessary) if you’d rather not vote at the polls. Proper ID is required when you vote and you can find information about that at BringItWisconsin.com.
Get to know the candidates by viewing their profiles at WisconsinVote.org. Each candidate also maintains a webpage where you can read about their positions on issues that matter to you.
Young voters, your voices are particularly important. Decisions made by elected officials will impact you the greatest as you will live with them the longest. Parents and grandparents, consider helping your first time voters get registered, show them a sample ballot and help them find their polling location. Also consider making voting a family affair, accompany your first-time voters and take your younger children to the polls; by doing so, you are demonstrating democracy in action.
Participating in our government by voting is a responsibility and a right. When you stay home you are putting your future in other people’s hands. Your vote is your voice, make sure your voice is heard.
Jodi Muerhoff is a former special education teacher and currently serves on the board of Forward Kenosha. She lives in Kenosha.