New Jersey’s abysmally low voter turnout in past years has been due to a variety of factors, most of which have been explored through hypotheses ranging from redistricting to a lack of interest in the political process. While both may be true, it’s hard to account for turnouts as low as 36% in the 2014 midterm elections, or even 27% in the 2011 legislative elections. Ultimately, it seems that New Jerseyans aren’t voting because they don’t believe they can make a difference, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.
While Presidential elections are often thought of as more interesting or more impactful on people’s lives, in truth, our day-to-day existence is impacted on a much larger level by our state legislatures. Be it through the passage of legislation on clean water regulations, health care reform or the funding of anti-domestic violence programs, our state legislatures play an incredibly large role in what we do and how we do it, given their degree of control on a state level. It’s extraordinary how much work can be done on a local, legislative level, and how much energy is devoted to national campaigns that, while impactful in their own right, arguably make less of a difference than largely ignored elections right under our noses. While many New Jerseyans understand this on a rational level, few seem to understand the degree to which local elected officials hold the cards.
Regarding the impact of a single vote, one can’t safely argue that legislative elections can’t be affected by the actions of 100, 10 or even 1 person’s actions. In 2013, Northern NJ Assemblyman Timothy Eustace won re-election by 35 votes in a district that saw 52,000 voters turn out for the year’s legislative elections. In similarly tight districts, voter coordination efforts ranging from door-to-door canvassing, household-situated fundraisers and election day carpools can bolster one’s impact far beyond their own personal vote. Furthermore, given that voter turnout is lower in legislative races than in Congressional or Presidential races, each individual vote makes a substantially larger impact on the race’s outcome.
We can’t reasonably expect for every New Jersey resident to vote in their local elections. While it’s unlikely that candidates with bizarrely antiquated stances on straightforward issues (see Chris Christie’s view of Planned Parenthood, for more) would find themselves in public office in a 100% voter-turnout election, some people are sufficiently apathetic to absent themselves from the political process on all manners of races. However, November 3rd is right around the bend, and the results of New Jersey’s legislative elections will play major roles in our day-to-day lives for years to come. As young Democrats, we need to reinforce our political views with action- and no action is more meaningful and impactful than voting in legislative races.