Later this year, gubernatorial elections will occur across the country, in which individuals have the opportunity to shape the future of their states in both the governor and lieutenant governor positions. However, statistics show that turnout for these elections drops by over 30 percent when compared with voter turnout during presidential elections. While Kentucky, California, New York, and many other states are also experiencing voter percentages dropping for local elections, let’s focus on Virginia’s statistics. Virginia’s Department of Elections Board reports that in 2016, 72 percent of registered voters turned out to the polls to vote in the presidential election. However, the years both before and after the election year show diminishing results. In 2015, only 21 percent of registered voters participated in local elections, and in 2017, only 47.6 percent of registered voters participated in local elections.

These statistics show the emphasis that has been placed on presidential elections over state elections. As the federal government has become involved in more and more aspects of our lives, the influence of the state is being forgotten. The millennial generation, which is known for wanting to make a positive impact, composes a large majority of the current voting population that is not participating in state elections. While change on a federal level may have the most widespread results, voters today are forgetting the tremendous opportunity they have by being able to influence their own state legislation.

In the case of the upcoming state governor elections, voters have the chance to influence the path their state will follow for the next four years. Each state government is modeled after the workings of the federal government. The state governor has the authority, in a majority of states, to appoint the state judiciary, to control the executive budget, and to enforce a legislative veto. Over the course of two or four years, many new laws can be enacted and enforced that either strengthen or weaken an individual’s freedom.

An example of this is a state’s ability to pass a Government Nondiscrimination Act, which would ensure religious liberties relating to the biblical definition of marriage are protected. While the case of Obergefell v. Hodges proclaimed the constitutional right to same-sex marriage, the states retain the power to ensure that Christians and other religious people are not forced to affirm this definition of marriage in their lives and businesses. Participation in state elections allows individuals to advocate for their states to protect their rights and avoid being penalized for holding to a biblical definition of marriage.

The Founding Fathers originally determined that state government should have more power than the federal government. If participation and understanding of the importance of state elections were recognized by more of the voting population, decisions such as Roe v. Wade could have been tempered in their influence, for voters would elect politicians seeking to limit the expansiveness of how abortion is practiced. As governor and lieutenant governor elections fast approach, the burden is on the people to shape the future of their state and make a change, as many millennials desire. This can be achieved by contacting local officials and participating in the upcoming governor and lieutenant governor elections.  

Emily Weatherholt is an intern at FRC Action.