This year, Pennsylvania’s general election will be held on Nov. 7, with voters deciding on candidates for several pivotal political positions across the state.
Philadelphians will be electing their 100th mayor, and making their voices heard in races for City Council and city commissioner and controller, among other positions. Statewide, candidates on the ballot are seeking to fill seats on the state Supreme Court, Superior Court and Commonwealth Court.
As a battleground state, Pennsylvania is at the forefront of presidential elections. However, smaller, local elections are just as integral to democracy and policy in the state. November’s municipal election will determine which candidates will be the ones making decisions on issues like education, taxes, public safety and infrastructure.
The number of candidates and the less familiar positions that are up for election may be overwhelming for young voters, butTemple students should take steps to educate themselves on the upcoming election through research and voter guides. In addition, they should make sure to actively participate in the democratic process, as every election has the ability to shape their future and their state.
“In terms of your daily life, these elections actually are more important than the national elections,” said Robin Kolodny, a political science professor. “These are the people who will create the policy that governs how the schools are going to run, what taxes are going to be like in a city, what kind of public works are to happen, that’s everything from parks, to roads, to aid and water quality.”
Midterm and local elections tend to have a lower voter turnout than presidential elections, and young people, especially between the ages of 18 and 34, have lower participation rates in elections. Because this election is not a federal-level race, people may feel less motivated or prepared to get out and vote.
“That is why usually these are low turnout elections,” Kolodny said. “People don’t pay a lot of attention because you don’t have presidential candidates advertising on airwaves like you would in an even-numbered year.”
Although voter turnout in the United States has been higher than average among young voters in recent years, only 32 percent of eligible voters in Pennsylvania, aged between 18 and 29 turned out to vote in the 2022 midterm elections, according to an April 2023 study by Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
In local elections across the United States, fewer than 15 percent of eligible citizens turn out to vote for community leaders, like mayors and city council members, according to Who Votes For Mayor?, a research organization that examines voter turnout in small elections across the country.
Additionally, the median age of voters was 57 years old, and city residents 65 and older were 15 times more likely to cast a ballot than younger residents between the ages of 18 and 34. Every vote matters in an election, but the young population will be affected by decisions and policies for a longer period of time, so they should contribute to the election of local politicians.
If young people don’t participate in elections, it is more likely that officials will focus on the issues of the older demographics that help them get elected. It’s imperative that students understand the power of this election and how they can influence results and long-term effects.
“If you’re really going out there, and you’re taking the time and you’re putting down your vote, that’s alone is doing a lot, and people don’t understand that one vote can change the entire face of the election,” said Jocelyn Loehr, a senior health professions major and chief of communications for Temple Student Government.
IMPORTANCE OF LOCAL ELECTIONS
In the upcoming Philadelphia election, former City Councilmembers Cherelle Parker and David Oh are vying to become the city’s next mayor. Across the state, people will be voting on new state Supreme Court justices, as well as electing justices to the Superior Court and the Commonwealth Court.
The focus of local elections is often placed on more well-known positions, like mayor, but there are many overlooked positions that have significant influence. All local offices are important and in place to make sure the political system works efficiently.
It’s essential that young people know about these because the results of the elections will have long-term consequences, Spotlight PA reported. City Council members have the power to influence local politics, as they have the ultimate say on which laws are passed.
This election will also decide judicial retention. State judges initially run in partisan races, but serve 10-year terms once elected, after their term they face retention races without an opponent, where voters decide if a judge should maintain their position.
State Supreme Court justices interpret the constitution and have the final say on legal questions. They are also in charge of issues, like taxes and oversee the state’s court system. Because they serve extensive decades-long terms, their actions could impact young students through their adult life.
Considering the great influence local elections have, students should actively take steps to learn more about the candidates and the electoral process. Practicing one’s civic duty is an amazing opportunity for individuals to make a difference in their community and to choose who is representing them.
NAVIGATING THE BALLOT
Students who are overwhelmed with what’s on the ballot can use a plethora of voter guides and informative resources available online to make the process easier for students.
It’s students’ responsibility to make an effort to register to vote and familiarize themselves with the candidates running for the different offices.
Additionally, BallotReady.org is a great student resource. Their Research Your Ballot tool provides users with a sample ballot that highlights every position up for election in their area, as well as accompanying information about individual candidates, their experience and their views.
To learn more about the elections, students can use these local news outlets to gather information about the candidates without feeling overwhelmed. With these free and convenient resources available, there is no excuse for students to not take steps to educate themselves on the election.
Kristin Traniello, an editorial consultant for Every Voice, Every Vote, a coalition of Philadelphia community and media organizations committed to informing voters, said a lack of experience with elections or political coverage doesn’t have to be a barrier for students.
“Even if you feel like you’re not very confident, you should still go to the polls,” Traniello said. “You can still go to the polls, knowing what you know, you don’t have to know everything inside and out. You can do a little bit of research and feel confident about a few of the races and make your choice there.”
A local election is not an excuse to withhold one’s vote, and students should put in the time and effort to utilize available resources to educate themselves. Democracy relies on the involvement of citizens, and students have the opportunity to shape their future by participating in elections and ensuring their representation on all levels of government.
The voter registration deadline has already passed, but those who are already registered have several options to ensure they are able to cast their ballots, like voting in person at their local polling location, or by requesting a mail-in ballot.
Civic engagement is a valuable and integral duty for young people in Pennsylvania, and they should prioritize political engagement to make their voices heard and shape their future through participating in democracy. Local elections may be daunting, but students have the ability and the resources to get informed and cast their vote with confidence.
“You’re really giving away your power if you’re not voting,” Traniello said. “When young people vote, it means it shows elected officials that they are paying attention, that they are using the power that democracy has given them, and that their voices matter and they will be influential.”