Amid the excitement of the World Series, the stress of midterms and the impending doom of finals, one major upcoming event has not been on the minds of most Rice students: Election Day. Contrary to popular belief, there actually is an election this Tuesday, Nov. 7, and it has received an abysmally low level of attention. In general, it’s hard to attract voters to a non-flashy local election, especially during an off-cycle year like 2017. In the wake of Harvey and last year’s fatiguing campaign season, the Rice population seems particularly disinterested in this year’s local elections.
Here’s why you should care about one of our most critical exercises in democratic power.
After the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, half the country felt empowered while the other half lamented their loss of power. A brief wave of activism emerged from those who felt this loss, but this resistant spirit has all but died when it comes to local politics. As for those who benefitted from the results of last year’s election, it is easy to become complacent with the status quo. Both groups--and all of those in between--should recognize that all politics are local, and the democratic competition for local domain is still alive and well — as long as it is fueled by voters.
Local government administers our schools, maintains our roads, parks and infrastructure, and ensures the health and safety of our community. As trivial as these things may seem to busy college students, they are all issues on the ballot this election. Six of the nine Houston Independent School District Trustee positions are up for grabs (including one in Rice’s district), along with five citywide propositions that, if passed, would allow the issuance of municipal bonds to fund our parks, libraries, fire and police departments and public sanitation services. If you live in Houston, these ballot measures can and will affect you!
Since this year is an off-year election, your vote also carries more weight than during a national contest. A prime example is the election of Rice alumna Juliet Stipeche, who won the HISD District VIII Trustee position by only 44 votes in 2010. Instances like this abound in local elections, where voter turnout is less than one-third of presidential election turnout and races can be decided by just a handful of votes. By this logic, your say could actually be the deciding factor in a tight election.
Voting is even more critical in a post-Harvey Houston. Our elected officials and local agencies play a large role in determining how our city rebuilds and how prepared we will be for future natural disasters. We as voters have the exclusive power of determining who will run our city, and local elections amplify grassroots power by allowing us to air our grievances at the polls and choose those whom we think will best support Houston.
Whether you’re a native Houstonian or an out-of-stater registered in Harris County, Houston is your home, and you have a responsibility to vote to help make Houston strong.