A Site for Scholarly Commentary, Debate and Media Resources for the 2016 Election

Student Voices

Democracy is Local

Durham, NC – If I were to arrive in America with no knowledge of our political system, watching a few minutes of our news cycle would make me believe that the office of President of the United States is the only one that matters. We hear the same few names repeated endlessly, regardless of the fact that the primaries are still months off and the general election is more than a year away.

No doubt, president is an important position with world influence, but to some extent the decisions and aims of the person we select will not affect our day-to-day lives nearly as much as the elections down the ballot that we often overlook. Whichever party wins the White House next November, bills will remain stuck in committee and executive actions will be mired in court challenges.

We are wasting so much time bloviating on who will occupy the Oval Office that we miss the chance to participate in other elections that will actually shape our lives. On November 3 of this year, Durham will elect three new City Council members. These people will be tasked with selecting a new police chief and coming up with strategies to increase Durham’s stock of affordable housing, both issues that will intimately affect people here.

During the March 2016 primary, we will have the opportunity to vote on a $2 billion bond referendum to fund improvements to North Carolina’s public universities and community colleges. Although Duke would not be a direct beneficiary, many of us take classes or have friends at these institutions. It will be interesting to see whether the usually highly polarized primary voter base will pass the measure.

And in November 2016, North Carolina voters will select a governor and senator. Both races promise to be among the most competitive nationwide and will have a far greater impact on our daily lives. A Democratic governor could serve as a counterweight to the state’s Republican-dominated General Assembly, and Democrats need to pick up four Senate seats nationally to regain the majority.

Duke students, by virtue of residing in Durham, are eligible to register as North Carolina voters. Although the process has been somewhat complicated in recent years by law changes, it is still possible to participate. An ID will be required to vote in 2016, for instance, but people are allowed to vote without one if they attest they had a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining one. Click here for a list of voting requirements.

North Carolina is a state of historically close elections — President Obama won here in 2008 by roughly 14,000 votes. Duke has just under 15,000 students. If all Duke students were to turn out and vote, we could very well be the deciding factor for any number of close North Carolina elections.

We love talking presidential politics, but really there is no excuse not to be talking local and state-level politics. Democracy is local. Start here.