“It doesn't matter.”
“I don't know enough to make an informed decision.”
“I don't believe politicians will do what they say.”
These are the top three reasons people usually give me for why they don't vote when I am out registering new voters. Can you relate?
Apparently, a number of you can: Only 14.4% of registered voters turned out for this year's primary election in Allen County. Historically speaking, that's an increase from the last municipal primary in 2015, when only 9.8% of registered voters showed up. In fact, fewer than 23% of registered voters determined Fort Wayne's current City Council and mayor back in 2015.
While voting in presidential elections remains relatively consistent in the Hoosier State, voter turnout in Indiana for non-presidential elections has trended downward, dropping from 44% in 1982 to 29% in 2014. In Allen County, that voting percentage is even lower.
I get it. It's easy to focus on presidential elections. The national stage is big and dramatic, and national candidates spend a lot of money to saturate the media in an attempt to garner our undivided attention. But what if we refocused a fraction of the time we spend on national politics on becoming better informed and engaged local citizens?
The beauty of living in a community such as Fort Wayne (or New Haven or Grabill or Leo-Cedarville) is that we are all one phone call or email away from having our voices heard directly by the people we elect to represent us. What would it look like if, instead of thinking our vote doesn't matter locally, we learn which City Council district we live in and the names of our City Council representatives? What if, instead of assuming our elected officials won't deliver on their promises, we commit to communicating with them about one issue that's important to us in shaping the future of our community?
During this election season, most local candidates have made a concerted effort to attend events to meet with voters and answer specific questions about their plans for the city. I can think of a handful of free events where candidates from both major parties came together to explain their vision and listen to concerns from attendees.
Our elected officials live in and care about our city, just like you do. They also have the power to shape our city budget, from police to parks, from sidewalks to snow plows, from economic investment to infrastructure improvements. Almost everything you encounter during your day living and working in our community has been influenced in some way by our local elected officials. They make their decisions based on what they think is important to their constituents – which means your voice matters.
By engaging in local elections, we have the power to influence the world directly outside (and even including) our own front door. A vote in a local election isn't “lost” among a million other votes.
In fact, it might only take one neighborhood deciding to vote this year to reelect our incumbents, or to add multiple women to Fort Wayne's City Council. There is no better time to change the trajectory of Allen County's voting history than right now. In the next two days, I challenge you to take three actions:
1. Double check your voter registration on indianavoters.com. If you're not registered to vote in this election, be sure to register now for the next one. It takes about a minute.
2. While you're on the Indiana Voters website, look at who will be on your ballot, and spend five minutes researching this year's candidates. Ask a friend whom he or she is voting for and why, or check out the candidates' websites or social media.
3. Vote on Tuesday, and enjoy playing a direct role in creating the kind of community you envision. (Citilink is operating fare-free that day to make sure everyone has a ride to the polls.)
As a former statesman once said, “We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”
Karen Eller is founder of Karen Eller Consulting & cofounder of Culture Beyond Compliance.