Does My Vote Count? The Importance of Voting in Off-Year Elections

Informing Your Conscience in “Off-Year” Elections

Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

What is an off-year election? An off-year election is a general election that is held when neither a presidential election nor a midterm election takes place. Sometimes the term is also used to refer to midterm election years. When people in the United States think of voting they often think of participating in the national presidential election. However, the city, county and state elections, as well as congressional races can be just as important as presidential elections. The local races in small townships, villages or cities are often determined by just a few votes. So yes, your vote does count. It is true that your vote may have less of an impact in the general presidential election; but it can have a very large and more direct affect in the local or county elections.

Your Vote Greatly Influences Local Elections
There are many other elected positions on various levels that affect the everyday lives of the American people, but all too often many Americans sit on the sidelines during midterm or off-year elections. Important contests such as state governor and mayoral races to city council and school board have a major impact on the day to day lives of average citizen. Local elections can affect school funding, property taxes, zoning, law enforcement, educational curriculum, city parks and recreation, local businesses, waste collection, sports arenas, public health, charity and benevolence, religious centers, abortion debates, adult business zoning, marijuana laws, and many more aspects of our daily lives. Thus, it is very important that every American citizen educate themselves on the candidates and vote intelligently. This is a major component of a democratic society, an essential component of a successful democracy.

Previous Democracy and Me Articles on Elections
As we have said, with the upcoming election season it is important that people understand the important role informed citizens play  when exercising their right to vote. In light of it being election season I would like to draw the reader’s attention to previous articles we have done on the Democracy and Me site around the topic of elections and voting.
Two such articles are entitled Congressional, State, and  Local Elections Voting in a Democracy- Lessons on Voter Suppression and What are the Midterm Elections All About? A resource that also offers good information about local elected offices is Who Runs the Show? Understanding Your Local Government.

Research Your Options and Vote
It is important that people get out to vote and not simply wait for the presidential election. Here is a good resource to find important information about voting and upcoming elections in your hometown. Also, below I have included some resources on elections and voting that can help voters better understand the issues and also receive some general information about the democratic process. I will also provide resources for teachers to use to inform students about voting in their classrooms.

Off Year Election Resources
So, You Want To Run For Local Office
Off-Year Elections
United States Midterm Election
Understanding Congressional, State, and Local Elections
Off-Year Election Preview: Is It All About Partisanship?
What is an Off-Year Election?

Voting Lesson Plans
Off-year Election Lessons
Elections and Civics Lesson Plan
Citizen Advocacy Center
Ten Ways to Teach About Election Day
Mini-lesson: Midterm Elections (HS)
Do the midterm elections matter? – Worksheet
Seven Ways to Teach the Midterms With The New York Times


  1. I did not know these type of elections were called Off-Year Elections. This article is interesting because it opened my eyes to the true importance of the local elections and voting for your local representatives. I’m not completely knowledgable on voting but I realize that these types of elections can be even more important than a presidential election. These are the types of changes that are going to be made in our surrounding community and these changes come fast. It is good to remember that voting is very important no matter what type of election and for those who think their one vote doesn’t matter, there are thousands more probably with the same mindset.

  2. It has been a major theme discussed in class about the importance of teaching our students the importance of civics and one of the most important civic duties we have is voting. I think we as social studies teachers need to find ways to get kids more interested in this civic duty because it’s something that I didn’t care much for until recently and see the value in now that I’m older. My goal is to get kids to start thinking about this earlier than I did and I would like to do more research on ways I can do this. 

  3. I had an actually never heard the term off year election until reading this article. I did not know an off-year election was a general election that is held when neither a presidential election nor a midterm election takes place.I thinking voting is an important responsibility as a citizen and I completely agree that our votes carry much more value in local races then they do in the presidential election. I have always felt like my vote really didn’t count when previously voting. After seeing some of the results in Kentucky last night I realized that every vote really counts as some of the races were extremely close.

  4. As of the time that I am writing this comment, it is beyond certain that every single vote counts, and anyone can change the influences in their community and those who represent their best interests. The actions of local leaders have a much greater effect on our daily lives, but the Presidential race always recieves much more attention from people. Recently, it seems as if every candidate and policy has been reviewed by thousands of voters. Social media has no doubt encouraged others to vote and spread that message in a way that wasnt possible even twenty years ago.

  5. I have read this article in the wake of Andy Beshear winning the Kentucky governor seat by 5,189 votes, and I think this alone proves the notion that your vote matters (at the state level at the very least). Voting is optional, but it is a civic duty and I think the American education system has failed us in making so many of us believe that the presidency is our most important election, it isn’t. I really liked this article because it recognizes the importance of the informed voter, just last night at work I was talking about the election to a girl my age and she said “People ask me why I like Trump and I tell them I don’t keep up with all that stuff, I’m a republican, that’s all I know” I was dumbfounded, not because we had opposing views but because she claimed to have views when she knew nothing about politics and said she did not want to, it was evident these “views” she had most likely came from the mouths of her parents, and I felt embarrassed that this girl and I could be voting on the same issues as me and know absolutely nothing about them. It is so important to be an informed voter, if you aren’t it is better that you don’t do so at all, in my opinion. I think the unfortunate reality is the American culture has turned politics unto this bloodbath, where most people are in a happy middle but must fight for one of two extremes because of our two party system, people often can’t talk politics without it ending friendships or relationships, so they don’t and in these things we have bread and an apathetic voter population who loves to complain, but in order to see change we must vote and we must vote with a knowledge of what we are voting for and against, and we must vote in off year elections as these elections often affect the daily lives of Americans more than presidential ones, and our votes matter more. In order to fix our voter culture and the systems we don’t like we must encourage voting and positive and impactful debate.

  6. I have honestly never been into voting. I grew up in a small village and we always knew who was going to win and what was going to pass because majority of the community was family or related somehow. I think this article is very intriguing because I will tell on myself, I have always had the mindset that my vote doesn’t count but after this article I now understand that off year voting is very important and should be expressed more in late middle and early high school settings.

  7. This is something I can relate to, being someone who typically leans democratic in a majority republican state, I often find myself wondering why bother with voting. This specific election, Bevin vs. Beshear, I felt very passionate about, as a future teacher, Bevin has taken several stances against Educators. Much to my chagrin, Beshear, a democratic candidate, actually won Kentucky, cementing my belief that my vote does matter.

  8. Voting is one of the many civic freedoms we, as Americans, get to exercise. No matter the election, its important to put forth the time and effort to make yourself knowledgable about the candidates. A lot of people complain about of official leaders but when asked if they voted often times they will say “no I don’t care about politics” or “I didn’t have time” plus many more, they had the chance for their voice to be heard and they choose to ignore one of their greatest rights. My senior year of high school I was enrolled in a government class, before this class I was the type of person that would say “I don’t care about politics” but after taking that class and learning about the amount of impact one vote can have, I’ve learned to embrace and celebrate my freedoms and educate myself on our current or future political leaders. This is a topic I strongly feel that everyone should be educated on. I hope that more people will have a enlightened experience much like I had.

  9. It is good that people are so knowledgable about the Presidential election, however, off-year elections can be just as important. This off-year election is extremely important to me because it could lead to changes for my profession, all of which will hopefully be good changes and ones that could not happen if the people that are currently in charge, stay in charge. It is our duty as citizens to go out and use our rights as a democracy to make our voices heard. If we are not happy with those in charge, we have a chance to change it. It is important to remember this during all elections, and not just when it comes to electing the President of the United States.

  10. I think this is an extremely important topic. This off-year election in particular comes to mind. As a future educator, this election for the state of Kentucky is incredibly important and could change a lot about my future career in the next few years. However, this goes for every off-year election, not just this one. It is important to educate yourself enough to make a sound decision when voting because as we know, voting is a huge responsibility and is not something that should be taken lightly. The governor, for example, can make lots of things happen for many citizens of your state so it is important to know who the candidates are and what they stand for before making your vote. I think that the overarching idea of this is just that your vote truly DOES matter!

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