I Am A Very Frustrated First-Time Local Election Voter
The superintendent of schools finds himself under investigation by the public. An unarmed Black teenager dies at the hands of a police officer on his first official day of duty. City council approves contracts with construction companies preying on the loss of city housing, rapidly changing the racial dynamics of the city. I set out to walk my talk. But as I started this journey to knowledge, understanding and ultimately action, to vote, I found myself becoming a very frustrated first-time local election voter.
“Acquitted of all charges.”
Of course, I thought.
Hopeless, I felt.
Pissed, as always.
But the lightbulb went off. Finally.
In all blood-curdling honesty, I admit that I complained a lot about local politics but did not vote in local elections. Upset about poor test scores for elementary school students but couldn’t tell you who represented my district on the school board. Enraged at the fiscal irresponsibility of the United States congress but couldn’t tell you the last time I raised fire at the misappropriation of city funds by city council leadership. I was one of those nationally-sympathetic but locally-apathetic liberals. Yell on Twitter about local politics but never attended a council meeting? That was me.
That changed in the last year or so. Growing up in the suburbs of Washington D.C., you feel swallowed up by national politics. What happens nationally affects you more than anyone else, especially living close to the city whose license plates read “Taxation without Representation”. I watched as Washington D.C. tried desperately to fight gentrification and economic displacement only to be swept under the rug by the bit city on the hill — and its new political class.
However I was there — and voted — when Maryland legalized same-sex marriage and approved a new casino. I witnessed the small gap between those for and against those initiatives. Local voters mattered. But these propositions were up to vote in the same year of a Presidential election where decent turnout is downright expected. Any other year? Good luck.
So I learned to vote in general elections, never primaries. The time to set really important policy changes up for a vote is during “the general”, never so-called “off-cycle” elections. Where I lived, they rarely mattered. But where I live now, they matter more than ever.
Last summer, Antwon Rose was gunned down by a police officer in Wilkinsburg, a borough east of the city of Pittsburgh. That officer was acquitted of all charges mere months ago. The district attorney who brought the charges and oversaw the case faces a challenge in this year’s primary election.
The superintendent of schools continues to find himself under investigation by the public. An unarmed Black teenager dies at the hands of a police officer on his first official day of duty. City council approves contracts with construction companies preying on the loss of city housing, rapidly changing the racial dynamics of the city. The part of the city where I live.
So I set out to walk my talk. To be that local resident already aware of what’s happening but wants to do something about it. But as I started this journey to knowledge, understanding and ultimately action, I found myself becoming a very frustrated first-time local election voter.
I am a cord-cutting millennial. Outside of scanning headlines from the two largest local newspapers and an email from my local NPR news station, I catch much of the news from my Google News feed. I do not watch local news. Those hundreds of political ads that run during the 5:00 p.m. news hour? I miss those. So unless I’m intentional about following local politics, I miss those important stories on local politicians. As I write this days before the primary election, I have yet to run into any canvassers or the candidates themselves. I mostly chalk that up to living in an area overrun by college students but I may be wrong about that.
I reside on a street that borders four different city districts. Seriously. Walk half a block up to the closest stoplight, you’re in District 10. The block west of the stoplight? District 7. Behind my house? District 9. I’m in a district that covers majority of a neighborhood that economically and culturally differs from my own.
My voter ID card came in clutch for me. After deciphering my ward and district, which is listed as my precinct, I searched whether or not an open primary would take place on Tuesday. As I write this, I’m not sure.
From what I could find, the candidate running for my district is running uncontested — meaning that he faces no challenge from others within my party to be the Democratic candidate up for the seat. More on that later.
I grabbed a free copy of my city’s local arts and entertainment newspaper that produces a local edition guide. Within that guide, I learned that outside of the county district attorney election, the Democratic primary is running elections for the county council district at-large and city council. Excluded from this guide? School board and state Superior Court and county Court of Common Pleas. I discovered that primary after finding the official Democratic municipal primary ballot of my county of residence.
Superior Court. Court of Common Pleas. School board. District attorney. City Council. All important elections in what feels like another year where we as a country learn how much state and local elections affect us in ways paramount to who is in the Oval Office. The same can be said for where I live.
Our local school district is — for lack of a more mature word — a mess. Like many school systems in large cities, public schools fight with city and public school charters for money, attention or both. Reading levels for Black students are way below their white counterparts and the district still reels from its closure of several schools, leaving the city with vacant buildings unable to be sold.
Recently, the school district superintendent, with help from the school board, came under fire for approving several contracts with EdTech — educational technology — companies — with little or no debate, costing the city close to six million dollars. These bids look to be classic no-bid contracts, partnerships with companies that the superintendent of schools worked with in the past. The school board appears to be asleep at the wheel, approving these contracts without much a fight. The school board has a larger budget than the city.
KDKA Investigates: Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Lavishes Millions On No-Bid Tech…
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Teachers and staff say it's hurting, rather than helping, students. It's called EdTech, educational…
With these issues, the school board elections make or break the education of our children. But with voter turnout less than fifteen percent across the country, voters tend to skip out on this crucial vote. In my city, four seats are up for vote — all but one of those four board members chose to not run for re-election. That’s four out of nine seats. A game changer.
Importance can never be overstated when it comes to State Superior Court and county Court of Common Pleas. Checks and balances plus the criminal justice system that affects us the most. Donald Trump doesn’t send anyone to jail, the judge of the Court of Common Pleas handles all that. But voter turnout for those elections is criminally low.
Four candidates vie for one Allegheny County Common Pleas Court vacancy
George Heym, Richard Joyce, Brian Malkin and Mary McGinley, are running as Democrats; Ms. McGinley also is running as a…
Speaking of crime and justice, the county district attorney seat is another game changer. Our county’s district attorney has been at the helm for twenty — TWENTY — years. His competition in the primary worked for the public defender’s office. One is white, the other — with a history in public defence — is Black. History versus a fresh face. It seemed competitive until one of the candidates — the fresh-faced, Black candidate — upset many within the local LGBTQ and progressive community by not disavowing his belief that homosexuality is a sin. He also did not back away from his church whose history is marred with homophobic leadership. Although he apologized, the damage was done. The old guard shall continue.
Until Antwon Rose. Rose, 17, became another unarmed Black boy killed by police. The officer charged with his murder, Michael Rosfeld, was acquitted of all charges in April. Many called for the district attorney to be removed, using the primary election as the tool to get it done. An election that once looked over became the focal point of the entire election season.
Allegheny County DA Zappala faces 1st election challenge in 20 years
Longtime Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. will face his first challenger for his job in 20…
So I set out to finally act my age and vote in my party’s primary. But as I did my research, I learned how much the election will be over once I cast my vote.
My county is overwhelmingly Democratic, meaning that whoever wins the primary election on May 21st will win the open seat by default. Republicans and third parties tend to exclude themselves from the general election in the Fall. It’s a choice by not by much.
Although this benefits the party I’m registered for, it does somewhat feel undemocratic. Why even vote in the general election? To exercise your right? For symbolism? The most important election of this year, for county district attorney, will not be a two-party election. The Republican party declined to nominate a candidate for November. It screams apathy but from an economical and political standpoint, it makes sense. Why spend money on an election you have no chance in hell of winning?
So, ultimately, when I vote in November, it may feel as if I am checking a box as an empty symbol of support.
But I’m still voting. In the primary and general elections. Why? Because we must fight the silent oppressor to voting — ignorance.
I truly believe that ignorance keeps many of us from voting in so-called off-cycle elections. You can’t vote to amend what you don’t know must to be changed. Going through this process to educate myself a voter, I can’t help but think that the system bets on our lack of awareness to continue the status-quo. The school board can approve no-bid contracts and implement untested technology for schools for what seems like years when no one votes to remove its members. The district attorney can reside in that seat for ten-plus years without much concern, even the acquittal of a killer cop.
The infrastructure of local elections appears to be set up against the big-ticket only or first-time local edition voter. Unless already active in your community politically and within advocacy, or a news junkie, you may find yourself out of the loop or overwhelmed by it. I shouldn’t have to follow the right people on Facebook or Twitter to know when a candidate forum takes place. I found out about a county district attorney forum happening in my neighborhood a month after the fact — through a YouTube search.
That’s where my frustration lives. I wanted to know more, to be informed. I wanted to make sound decisions about those responsible in affecting the lives in my county of residence. As I digged, the information became difficult to find. It shouldn’t be. But I realize that it’s been designed to be. Because what happens when those asleep wake up? A revolution.
Zombies can’t lead revolutions. The system is aware. And that’s the most frustrating part of it all.