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Get out there and vote!

If you want real change, exercise your right to vote for those who can have a great impact on your life – your local government officials.

It’s ironic that many Americans are more physically rooted in their hometowns today than in the past but feel more disconnected from their community than ever before.

The never-ending stream of disagreement and loud voices coming out of Washington has drowned out any opportunity for local issues to gain traction in our consciousness, contributing to the divestment in local news outlets and a disinterested public ripe for exploitation by the candidates who tell them exactly what they are desperate to hear, “Vote for me and I will make your lives better.”

Focusing all your attention on national issues at the expense of local concerns is like – to invert the expression – “missing the trees for the forest.”

A tree on your property that crashes through your roof in a storm is more impactful than the forest behind it. In turn, local elections have a great impact on your life, as do the national races. School board directors exercise authority over your child’s education, and county court judges decide if your neighbor gets custody of his kids in a divorce.

How does the latest conflict in national governance, to capture the 24/7 cable news narrative, immediately affect your family’s future? It’s akin to reading a newspaper with worldwide influence and readership while ignoring journalism addressing issues in your own community.

If you are disconnected from local politics, you are less likely to vote, especially in the primaries or off-year elections. And off-year, primary elections? Voter turnout from May 2017 Municipal Primary was just 12.11 percent. That’s the real lack of control over local issues.

Primary elections give you the ability to shape the general election and vote for your preferred candidate from the beginning of the election process.

Pennsylvania is a closed primary state, meaning only registered Republicans and Democrats can vote for their candidates. Also of significance in the Municipal Primary is that the candidates for judge of the Court of Common Pleas and school board director can cross-file.

These candidates can run on both the Democratic and Republican ballots in the primary, and if they win that primary, can run as a member of either party in the general election in the Fall. If candidates win on both ballots of the primary, they will almost certainly be assured of winning that seat before the Municipal General Election even occurs.

Cross-filing allows primary election voters to cast their ballots for the person they feel is the best candidate for these important nonpartisan positions, regardless of party affiliation. It takes the partisanship out of elections by presenting all candidates to all eligible voters in the primary.

Justice for all:
The Court of Common Pleas

In Pennsylvania, we vote for all our trial judges in partisan elections. We hope we elect judges to the Court of Common Pleas who will interpret our laws fairly and justly. These judges hear all major criminal and civil cases, such as murder or arson, and civil matters that involve families and children – like adoption, protection from abuse orders, and divorce. Chances are, if you are going to trial, you will appear before the Court of Common Pleas.

Like other Pennsylvania judges, Court of Common Pleas judges are elected for 10-year terms. They then have the option to stand for retention of their seat, where voters choose “yes” or “no” for an additional 10-year term, conceivably serving until the mandatory retirement age of 75. Retention election losses by seated judges are rare. So, judges elected in their 40s could serve for 30 years. The decision over who has that power for that length of time rests with you, if you exercise your right to vote.

Bottom line:
School board directors matter

In Pennsylvania, those who serve as school board directors play a role in many issues close to home. They determine how much you pay in property taxes, hiring of teachers, and the overall quality of your school’s educational program, which can impact college admission rates. These factors affect the demand for houses in your area, directly impacting your home’s resale value.

This year’s election for the Pennridge School Board is one among many examples of the need to be engaged in the Municipal Primary; eleven candidates are cross-filed and running for five of the nine seats on the school board.

If you’re not engaged, you’re not a factor

Make it a point to learn about the candidates running for your county’s judicial offices and your school board by attending candidate forums, following reporting in the local newspapers, and by looking for nonpartisan voter guides.

Visit the League’s Voters’ Guide online at and look for the races covered in the League’s Voters Guide published by the Bucks County Herald. Supporting our local newspapers is critical to the future of local journalism.

Frederick Douglass said, “Power sees nothing without a demand.” The best way to show a demand is to let public officials know that we have the power to put them in office, as well as to take them out of office, so get out there and vote.

Kristina Veale is a member of the League of Women Voters of Bucks County.