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A guide to the local ballot

Students, faculty discuss importance of local elections

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Andrew Weiner believes local elections are the most important part of government in America.

“What happens at the state and local level is more important compared with the federal government,” Weiner, a junior political science major, said. “If you look at the local government, they pass a lot of bills that people don’t tend to know about.”

These bills have a more direct impact on voters than federal legislation. For example, when Weiner worked for a local candidate on Long Island, people were concerned about cameras at stoplights. Officials elected during local elections have the power to address these types of everyday issues.

“People voted into local [offices] actually pass policies,” Weiner said. “But people don’t pay attention because it’s not like a midterm year or general election.”

Jacob Neiheisel, a political science professor, believes our tendency to ignore local politics is one of the “great paradoxes” of American life.

“That’s the funny thing about local elections – all of these races – is they actually have a much more direct impact on all our lives than things like Congress or the President,” Neiheisel said. “But when it comes to local ordinances, local elements that we have to exist around, we don’t pay a lot of attention to them.”

He thinks this is due in part to the media’s focus on national politics.

“We think because of its greater salience that it’s more important,” Neiheisel said. “But just because we hear about it all the time, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more important to our lives.”

He does not necessarily think this is intentional, but rather tied to “resource accessibility.”

“It’s probably just easier to go to the AP wire and see what’s coming down, Neiheisel said. “The AP’s going to be interested in making news as consumable as possible for as many people as possible. So they’re talking about the big national stories that everybody has interest in.”

At the local level, it takes money to hire reporters, Neiheisel pointed out. It also takes money to have a distribution network for your newspaper. Even local television news tends to be heavily dominated by national stories, according to Neiheisel.

“And I also think a lot of that is tied to one thing— interest,” Neiheisel said. “People are probably just more interested in the national stories.”

As a result, the local elections come and go year after year with low turnouts. Yet, these are the elections that have the most direct impact on constituents.

“We seem to forget about these off-year elections, where these are people that are really shaping policy that we live around day to day,” Neiheisel said.

There are four contested races on the Erie County ballot this year for students who live on campus: Sheriff, County Legislator, County Comptroller and Amherst Supervisor.

Elections take place Nov. 7.

Sheriff

Democrat Bernie Tolbert, a UB alumnus, is challenging incumbent Republican Sheriff Tim Howard. Sheriffs are responsible for law enforcement on the county level and managing deputies’ activities.

Neiheisel feels this is a crucial race for anyone who has concerns about how policing is run in the area.

“If you’re worried about the rights of the accused— there have been a number of issues surrounding treatment of the Erie County Prison—so if those are issues of interest to you, that’s a race to get involved in,” Neiheisel said.

Howard’s primary campaign platform is addressing the opioid crisis, according to his website. During his tenure as Sheriff, Howard implemented high school and college education programs at the Erie County Holding Center and expanded the Narcotics Unit.

Tolbert is a retired FBI agent. He said his priorities as sheriff would be to increase transparency for the Erie County Holding Center, “modern and professional training” for deputies and improved mental health resources for prisoners with mental illnesses, according to WIVB. His other goals include addressing rising street violence as well as the heroin and opioid epidemic.

Sheriff Howard has faced controversy and criticism since participating in a Pro-Trump, “Spirit of America” rally downtown in April. Many called for his resignation following his participation.

County Legislator

The county legislator is a member of legislative branch of government that is responsible for making new laws and changing existing laws in Erie County. County legislators govern by proposing bills, holding votes and passing laws that will impact Erie County.

Incumbent Democrat Thomas Loughran has been the owner/operator of Loughran's Restaurant for 38 years and is serving his twelfth year on the Erie County Legislature, according to the Erie County website.

Loughran serves as the Legislature's minority leader. He told The Buffalo News he believes his top accomplishments as Legislator are “holding the line” on taxes by providing oversight of the budget, downsizing the Legislature and updating Erie Community College.

Guy Marlette is Loughran’s Republican challenger. Marlette’s platform includes better management of the Erie County budget, improving infrastructure, ensuring low-income people with disabilities have access to housing and addressing the opioid crisis.

County Comptroller

The county comptroller is effectively the chief financial officer of Erie County and oversees the county’s $1.7 billion budget. The comptroller provides oversight and leadership into the financial affairs of the county.

Incumbent Republican Stefan Mychajliw is a former journalist whose investigative reports uncovered fraud, waste and abuse in Erie County government that lead to government reforms, according to the Erie County website. Mychajliw has held the Comptroller’s Office since 2013.

Democratic challenger Vanessa Glushefski is a certified public accountant and attorney. Glushefski’s platforms are professionalism, integrity and community service, according to her website.

Amherst Town Supervisor

The county supervisor provides local legislation and budgets, votes on issues in public meetings and rules on local laws.

Amherst Town Clerk Marjory Jaeger is the Republican candidate for Amherst Town Supervisor. Her platforms include promoting and assisting with the redevelopment of commercial properties, “respecting and protecting” green space and not raising taxes, according to her website. She also aims to create a Citizens Salary Review Committee.

Williamsville Mayor Brian Kulpa is running on the Democratic ticket for County Supervisor. Kulpa’s primary platforms are environmentally sustainable solutions to crumbling infrastructure, traffic-calming measures and inclusive design for roads and sidewalks, according to his website.

Even if you’re still registered to vote in your hometown and therefore not eligible to vote in Erie County elections, Weiner still thinks it is important for all students to pay attention to what is going on in their community politically.

“There are still laws that may influence you as a college student, because you are living in the area for three or four years or more for grad school,” Weiner said. “And you’re a college student, you may wind up living in the area. So you might want to pay attention to policies now because you would might likely live in the area after graduation.”

Senior geographic information systems major Josh Herman thinks college students should vote if they care about the community they live in.

“College students who care about the community they live in should do their best to vote in local elections,” Herman said. “Voter turnout among millennials is abysmal in odd-election years, and that is unfortunate because we are letting other generations speak for us.”

Junior political science and computer science major Mike Brown learned just how much an individual’s voice can matter in a local election when he volunteered for a local candidate last year.

“[The candidate] lost by a margin so slim they had to count the absentee ballots,” Brown said. “It's always disappointing when I hear people say their vote doesn't matter because it clearly does.”

Maddy Fowler is a news editor and can be reached at maddy.fowler@ubspectrum.com 


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