Despite low turnout, local elections have bigger impact on everyday life


The State Capitol Building’s golden dome makes it easy to spot when nearing Iowa’s largest city. 

Devyn Leeson

As voters look down the ballot — from federal, to state, to county and local elections — participation will inevitably decrease, but these “smaller” races oftentimes have a larger impact on people’s day-to-day lives.

This phenomena is somewhat counter intuitive, said senior lecturer of political science Kelly Shaw.

“Most of the decisions that really impact your life are on the local level … When you look at the policy that they craft, it is mainly nationwide, and very little of it will ever impact one small area, let alone one state,” Shaw said.

When looking at congressional races, like the ones including Steve King and J.D. Scholten, they oftentimes tell voters they will bring jobs to their area, but Shaw said they are just one of 435 house members on the federal level.

Most of the things voters care about are decided on the local level as well.

“It is really in your backyard where the policies that have a day-to-day impact on your lives take place. A good example of this would be taxation policy,” Shaw said.

Property taxes are decided on both the city and county level and those taxes are used as the revenues for local initiatives. Everything from water quality to electricity rates are local decisions.

While these offices impact people’s lives more than any other, Shaw said it is also where people ironically see the lowest levels of participation, and there “isn’t really a great answer” as to why there is less turnout.

“It may be that a lot of the offices are non-partisan and so it takes more work to understand what their goals and plans are as they aren’t attached to the identities within a party, and they also don’t get grouped into the get out the vote efforts by the parties,” Shaw said.

Regardless, these elections have a large impact on the lives of voters in story county and the rest of Iowa. In the last two years alone, massive changes happened to union rights and bargaining rights of public employees, mental healthcare reforms and large scale tax reforms.

This year the election is especially impactful as it could change the Republicans control over the three main sections of state government, including the Senate, House of Representatives and governorship.