People constantly ask me this question: “How do we encourage people to participate?”

We have a primary election coming up. In 2022, according to the Idaho Secretary of State’s office, 23.1% of people of voting age turned out. I get why it’s frustrating to vote in a state primary. After all, the process is confusing and one of our major parties closed their primary more than a decade ago. When you know that a political party and its so-called leaders are more important than ordinary people, it’s hard to be interested.

Turnout amongst people of voting age was better in the general election, at 42.3%, but in Idaho, the party primary had already pretty much determined the outcome. (Although it’s nice that the general will have more contested races this year.)

Regardless, the numbers are startling when you think about it. Less than half of the eligible voting population sets the agenda for everyone else. When it comes to the policies we end up with—whether it’s how many organs are “acceptable” to lose before you get the healthcare you need or whether you can check out a book in your local library—the people who actively participate call the shots.

Unfortunately, there are systemic barriers to participation. In recent years the state legislature has made voting more difficult. They continue to push for increasingly restrictive measures, even though there’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud or any sign that our elections are compromised.

Additionally, the pressures of everyday life weigh on people. When a 40-hour job isn’t enough to pay for housing and food, when you need to help with homework and get the kids to sports practice, how are you supposed to get involved?

Plus, it doesn’t help that the duopoly often presents us with top-of-the-ballot choices that aren’t that appealing.

But it really is time to look at local and state level races. Our electoral college system means that your voice doesn’t matter much in the presidential election if you live in Idaho. And there’s never been a time that a missive to one of my Congressional representatives received a reply that wasn’t a canned response.

The state level, though, is where the policies are impacting our lives. We’re one of the few states in the region that doesn’t have an anti-price-gouging law for gas. Our state legislators are more concerned with telling parents what their kids can read and obsessing over pronouns than they are dealing with the homeowners exemption mess they made and providing property tax relief.

This is where we need to put our available focus. No, the top-of-the-ticket doesn’t look super attractive to a lot of people. But if you have one hour a week to look at state-level races and consider voting yes for the upcoming open primaries initiative, we might be able to start making a difference.

At some point, we need to get beyond party and start looking at what policymakers are doing. And getting involved to hold them accountable.

Miranda Marquit, Master of Business Administration, is a nationally recognized financial expert, writer, speaker and podcaster. She is the chair of the Bonneville County Democratic Central Committee.