09/18/2012 09:15 am ET Updated Nov 18, 2012

Why the Elections Matter (No Matter Where You Are)

Whenever the presidential cycle rolls around, you can always count on me as one of its most avid followers. But in the past it has always been with a sense of grudging resignation. After all, I do live in a state that has voted for presidential candidates of the same party since 1968, and governorship of that same party since 1978 (that would be Republican, if you were wondering), and usually by huge margins. And we only have three electoral votes. In fact, most of the emails I get from candidates were to help call voters... in Iowa. So it's fair to say, South Dakota is not on the top of the to-do campaign list for presidential candidates. And sadly, when you ask many of the election-eligible seniors at my high school about the elections, the same resignation is there, along with a mixed "eh" answer to whether or not they will vote in November. But that's exactly the opposite of what our reactions need to be.

Particularly during presidential election years, it is easy to be entirely distracted and absorbed by the national race for the White House. This is completely understandable, considering that we are electing the person who will lead the most powerful nation on the planet. However, for most of us, the issues on our local ballot will have a much bigger and more direct effect on our everyday lives. Because despite the exaggerated outcries about the death of federalism, each individual state still wields enormous power, particularly over issues such as education, social services, and local transportation and commerce. Basically, the majority of the things we go through during a typical day are issues that surface only on our local ballot. And, let's be honest, they receive a miniscule amount of attention compared to the presidential race. I didn't even know about half the issues that were going to be on our ballot until I did some research on our state website -- they include an education plan that could entirely revamp our state system, balanced budget amendments, and business regulations -- issues that will all affect me, my brother, my friends, or my parents.

National policy changes, on the other hand, take a long time to actually trickle down from the national to state, to county, to city level. Along the way, lots of things can change in the White House, Congress, or courts to remove those changes before they are even initiated. And often, states still have enormous power to alter those laws or mandates. That's not to say national laws aren't important. They can mean the world for soldiers deployed abroad because of a foreign policy decision, or the businesses that feel the reverberations of an economic initiative. But it certainly doesn't outweigh the power of our local government.

So, let's refocus. Yes, the presidential race is absolutely important for the direction of our country, but the things that can have the biggest impact on the youth's daily lives won't be heard on the national airwaves or discussed by the big name political pundits. That just makes it even more important that we do a little extra research before we head to the voting booths. Don't let November 6 be the first time you see the ballot. Visit your secretary of state's website to see all the state-wide ballot issues, as well as your district's state representative candidates, and make sure you don't wait too long to register. Remember, it doesn't matter if you vote in Florida or South Dakota -- there are issues for which your ballot will matter, regardless of whether you live in the red, blue, or purple.