Since my last column was published, I’ve spoken to about a dozen groups about what’s at stake in this year’s elections. I’m not talking about the stakes in November’s Presidential election. I’m talking about something much more immediate – the June 14th state and local primaries.
Oh sure, our races don’t get play on CNN, MSNBC, or FOXNews, but they all have a much bigger impact on your day to day life and your business’ bottom line.
Emails begin to roll in a few hours after my talks. Most are like this one from Amy: “(The panel) left me leaving feeling that I needed to get involved…just a matter of finding the time to do it, now! I am already registered to vote and have actually voted in every election possible since turning of age (though not all in South Carolina), so that’s a plus.”
Getting involved in politics is like going to the gym or eating healthy: We all know we need to do it. Some of us dabble in it. Some of us do it all the time. A few get really good at it, show off, and intimidate the rest of us.
Remember, if the headlines out of Columbia, County Square, or City Hall infuriate you from time to time, you need to ask yourself what you are doing about it. The people elected to state and local offices have a much greater influence over your day-to-day life than our national leaders. Local officials determine what roads get paved, which developments get the green light, whether dangerous intersections are fixed, what items are recycled, where your children go to school, what size sign you can put in front of your business, and on and on.
In some local and state elections, voter turnout is less than 10 percent of registered voters. If you’re not active, you’re letting a tiny minority of your community pick your leaders.
So, if you’re someone like Amy and want to do something “now”, here are four quick and easy things you and your small business can get involved and exert real influence on this June’s election.
- Register to Vote
This is the most fundamental right in a republic like ours. I’m not one to say you can’t complain if you don’t vote (though I strongly sympathize with those who say that). Nearly three million Americans have been killed or wounded to secure that right. Billions of people are oppressed or risk their lives every day to have the right to vote. The deadline to vote in the June 14th election is May 14th. If you are registered to vote, great! Get your employees registered. Go to www.scvotes.org and register, and give your employees some time this week to register themselves.
- Meet the Candidates and Ask Questions
OK, so you’re registered to vote. Great start. Now, you need to be an informed voter. The Greenville Chamber is one of dozens of media and civic organizations holding candidate forums and meet-and-greets. An hour here or an hour there of face-to-face interaction will inform you far more than relying on pre-packaged campaign marketing. You wouldn’t buy a car without test-driving it. Why would you elect someone to lead your community without meeting them?
- Volunteer to Help a Campaign
It makes for cute Facebook memes when we think everyone who has influence is a highly paid lobbyist or corporate titan with a giant checkbook. The best way to have influence over an election is to ask a candidate if you can volunteer to help them. Officials remember their volunteers. If you need them later, they’ll listen for the opinion of their volunteers far more than a paid lobbyist. If you’re a volunteer, and a constituent, and a business owner, you have more un-exercised power than you understand.
- Get Your Friends, Neighbors, and Employees to the Polls
On Election Day, ask your friends and neighbors to vote. If you’re helping a candidate, get your friends out to vote for your candidate, or ask your campaign of choice for a list of people you can help get to the polls. Encourage your employees to vote by giving them an hour off on June 14th. If you can influence five or 10 people, you’re amplifying your voice.
You may ask why the Chamber is interested in getting everyone out to vote. It’s simple: the more people who vote, the more responsive elected officials have to be to a broader ideological range. The broader the range, the more pragmatic our officials need to be. The more pragmatic our officials are, the better their decisions. Good decisions move our community forward.
So get out and make your voice heard. There are about four weeks until the primaries.
Jason Zacher is the Greenville Chamber's
Vice President of Business Advocacy and
Executive Director of the Upstate Chamber Coalition.