The Most Important Ballot Decisions November 8, 2016
by Matthew J. Sutherland
This election ride has been one crazy roller coaster, and it isn’t even done yet. When you drive down the road, Hillary and Trump signs litter the United States. With controversy galore, it is hard to ignore the most bizarre Presidential Election campaign, arguably, in history.
But the Presidential Election is not the most important decision you will make on your ballot.
The head of the executive branch will have the most power over foreign affairs, and that is quite the responsibility, but for most Americans, local politics will have a larger and more immediate effect on your life. The next President’s legislative and persuasive powers will be limited as well: with the most unpopular Democratic presidential candidate, and the most unpopular Republican presidential candidate, neither will go into office with the “honeymoon period” or any sort of mandate from the people, especially with third party candidates making it less likely either of them will get beyond a 50% popular vote. Their political capital will be, for the most part, limited. The 113th Congress (2013-2015) is the second most ineffective Congress in history, beaten only by the 112th (2011-2013) and there isn’t much hope for the 114th Congress, either. Partisan gridlock is largely to blame, but an unpopular executive branch will diminish much of the next President’s bargaining power to lead the legislature towards their goals.
The flip side of this is that now the power for policy has gone largely to local governments. These policies range from where your garbage bin needs to go all the way to funding for education in a state. And your local representatives should absolutely represent you. Millions (sometimes billions) of dollars that are spent in a state and the distribution of those funds should fit the needs of the local populaces, but trends clearly show that when people vote, many will only vote for POTUS, and the saddest fact is that most people don’t even vote at all. According to the Pew research center, we trail most-developed countries in voter turnout. The 2012 election saw a 53% turnout but in 2010 it was only 37%. And that is out of eligible registered voters. The interests of the majority of Americans are not being represented, and that’s why we need to vote down the ballot.
The thing is, if you don’t vote, the people who get elected are often going to represent interest groups, and that’s probably not going to be best for you. It is a scary thought, that the most powerful groups in elections are not always the voters, but organizations designed to lobby officials to give themselves more power
Your City Council, your State Legislature, your Congress-person, your Senator, your Mayor, your Governor, and your State Auditor will affect your life more directly and significantly than your President.
We are less likely to see criminal justice reform, social justice, or environmental justice policies enacted in an increasingly polarized federal congress, but it is more likely to happen at your local levels. How does your local Sheriff view crime? How does your local senator feel about the environment in your state? Do they want to privatize national parks? How does you City Council want to take on traffic issues? If you want body worn cameras on your police officer, you will need to vote for people that hold that ideal, because a national law on that probably won’t happen soon (as an example, but I hope you can see that this line of thinking is universally applicable).
There is no way to stress enough how important the down ballot elections are. The Presidency may get all the buzz, but the state and local levels will enact far more policies than the federal government or the President will, and you need to be represented. Now don’t get this twisted, I’m not saying don’t vote for President, but I am trying to stress the importance of voting in an area that gets little attention, but is significant. So make sure you get to the polls this November, grab your ballot, and look at every race and initiative on there.
Vote. On everything.
U.S. voter turnout trails most developed countries
Voter Turnout Plummeting in Local Elections
Voter turnout always drops off for midterm elections, but why?