The Local Politics Information Gap

Today was Election Day in Ohio.  In New Albany, we had a very thin ballot:  no state or county issues, a few judicial contests — and races for local offices.

IMG_5340They say all politics is local, and there’s some truth to that.  Decisions made by small-town councils, by school boards, and by other local government instrumentalities can have a profound and immediate impact on you and your neighbors.  Why is it so difficult, then, to get meaningful information about local government races?

For national and statewide races, we’re bombarded with information.  Commercials flood the airwaves.  Fliers are sent in the mail and left under the front doormat.  Reporters and bloggers cover the candidates’ every word for months.  By the time the big day rolls around, voters have experienced total information overload.

For local races, however, the opposite is true.  There are no commercials or door-to-door missives.  There might be a story or two in the local weekly newspaper, and perhaps a candidates’ forum — but who has time to attend one of those?  So you pay particular attention to the views of your neighbors, even to the point of trying to remember which signs are displayed in the yards of neighbors who seem like intelligent, thoughtful people whose judgment you can trust.

I always vote, and today was no exception — but I always feel that my vote on local races is much less informed than my vote on more prominent races, and that bothers me.  I wonder whether this information gap is why so few people vote in “off-year” elections where only local offices are on the ballot.