Tuesday will feature the stunning theater that is municipal general elections in Pennsylvania. Turnout figures for such day bring to mind the philosophical musing about trees falling in forests. In some states there are bigger decisions at play. Gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia come to mind.
Still, municipal elections are important. More important than we generally consider. Local elections give us great chances to see the consequences of our choices up close. If one is a tax-and-spend liberal, vote that way and see if the results, which will be felt with seeing those extra police cars on the street or extra funds in the schools seem worth it in light of the higher property tax bills. If one is austerity-minded, vote that way and see if you really miss that extra police car or if your local school can do without those resources that seem superfluous.
I'm trying to be apolitical as I try to make a point: When we participate in elections where participation and margins of victory are measured in the thousands and hundreds of votes and when we see up close the benefits and costs of our decisions we can better understand where we feel on bigger political issues. There is some danger, or perhaps sloppiness is a better word, in being only a once-every-four-year participant in elections in that we can start to disconnect cause and effect.
One other nice thing about voting in local and state elections is that those we elect are usually more conscious of the preferences of their constituents than are holders of national office. Labels matter less at the local level. When we don't vote in our municipal races we forfeit the chance to have input in a part of the process that welcomes our input more than any other.