I was sitting in a graduate seminar on Political Behavior when I first encountered the mathematical equation that showed me just how very little my vote mattered. I’ve long forgotten all of the variables, but your odds of casting a deciding vote in a national election are somewhere between 1 in 1 million and 1 in 30 billion, depending on where you live. Odds like that didn’t really inspire me to head to the polls.
But within a month of moving back to Pittsburgh, I learned of the Ross Township Commissioner race that ended in a tie and was ultimately decided by little more than a roll of the dice. Then I remembered reading “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” and started thinking about how so much change happens in town halls and at school board meetings long before movements gain any real traction at the state or federal level.
That got me thinking about school board and mayoral and town/city council elections. If you vote in these hyper-local races, you can help control the curriculum that shapes what students are learning, the rules at your local park, the laws governing your town, and the person who oversees the police officers who are enforcing those laws. That’s real power. And we have the opportunity to use it.
On November 7, five of the nine seats on the Pittsburgh Public School Board are up for grabs. Dozens of other school districts, towns, boroughs, and villages across Allegheny County and Western Pennsylvania are holding local elections, too. Turnout is notoriously low in these contests – barely over 20% in 2013 for our last municipal elections. It doesn’t take much to shift the balance and start seeing your voice translated into policy.
Our world is changing. For the first time I can recall, lots of people are talking about how the lessons so many of us were taught in grade school leave out significant perspectives and don’t even come close to telling the whole story of the who, what, when, why, and how of our world. Columbus didn’t discover America. The Civil Rights movement is far from over. Pretty much everything about Thanksgiving is a lie.
Look at your child(ren). Think about what you want them to learn. Look at the candidates on your ballot, do your research, and show up at the polls. Set an example for your kids to be active, engaged citizens who don’t take their right to vote for granted. Your vote matters.