Without looking them up, can you name your state’s governor? Lieutenant governor? State legislative representative(s)? Your local council representative? Maybe more importantly, can any of these public officials name you as his or her constituent?
If you cannot name all of the elected officials who represent you and they do not know who you are—than there is no possible way for your elected officials to be accurately or positively representing you. If you have ever complained about how politicians are out for themselves and don’t listen to the voters, then this is where you start as a citizen lobbyist to change things.
Voting is an invaluable resource for a constituent because it requires you to learn about the school board, the zoning commission, the city council, the mayoral candidates, and so on. Paying attention to elections means you are paying attention to campaigns and what potential elected officials are offering as your hired representative in government. It is much harder to go back and try to find that information after the fact than it is to find it as it is happening. Local news stations, newspapers, and online sources will not cover local and state campaigns in the same detail national campaigns are covered. Additionally, few local and state candidates have the resources to get their messages out the way national candidates do.
If you are going to be a citizen lobbyist or active constituent, one of the best things you can have in your arsenal is a regular voting record that can be verified by anyone who bothers to look for it. Most states allow a person’s voter registration information, including name, address, and phone number, to be public information. Also, your party affiliation (or lack thereof) and voting history may be accessible—for free or for a small fee. In Florida, for example, for $5 the state will mail anyone who requests it a disk with voter registration information. In Iowa, the law allows the state to sell voter registration information. This information is controlled individually by the states, usually by the secretary of state or another state-level official, but some states use a state election board to regulate elections and voting procedures and information. However, in every state your votes themselves are private—no one will know who you did or didn’t vote for. But whether you voted or not can be accessible. So when you become a citizen lobbyist or active constituent and you start making noise about wanting your elected official to work on some issue, it is helpful to have credibility as an established voter should someone go looking—and that means every election, not just in the “big” national elections. Because local and state officials in particular are more likely to pay attention to constituents who are more likely to vote in the next election and give the elected official an extension on his or her temp job.