Downticket races are important: Please participate in them

Friends, this has been a really tough election year. I get that. And now, absentee ballots are starting to go out, your voter information guide should have arrived, and 8 November is staring us in the face. And we’ve all been talking about a lot of things, but today, I want to restate my case for voting in downticket races.

I know that some of you are opting not to vote on the top of the ticket, and I have many thoughts about that, but this isn’t the place for them. Because after you’ve skipped the presidential race, there are a lot of other things on the ballot, and they are all extremely important. I’m not trying to be patronising here. I know that many of us are really disillusioned, frustrated, and angry with the electoral process. Feeling like our votes don’t count. Feeling unheard and ignored. Feeling like the two party system is really pretty unfun. Those are valid feelings to have, and I understand that they are driving many people to want to stay away from the polls altogether.

But this country is bigger than individual feelings, and it needs you. The ballot contains multitudes, and while I vote all the way down, I know not everyone does. You can opt to vote selectively for what is important to you, and leave the rest alone. This year, depending on where you are, you may be voting for: governors, senators, representatives, assembly members, state senators, supervisors, judges, sheriffs, mayors, city council members, school board members, treasurers, insurance commissioners, and much, much more. Those are all individual people who can do amazing things in office, or terrible things in office.

Some of them are counting on lack of participation from disillusioned, frustrated people to get into office. Conservatives want you to stay home, because in many places, they’re mounting slates of very poorly-performing candidates, and they need low voter turnout to get them into office. Some of those candidates are, let’s be real, really terrible people. Like really terrible. They have horrific social attitudes and they don’t understand how to govern and they will be disastrous.

You have the power to change that. You have the power to turn Congress over to the Democrats — and I know, you might not be such a huge fan of the Democrats, and I respect that (you’re not going to hurt my feelings, I’m an Independent). But I’d rather have a Democratically controlled Congress than a Republican controlled Congress. I’ve seen what the Republicans do, which is a whole lot of nothing, except when they’re doing terrible things. The Republicans have blocked attempts at gun control. Have refused to hold confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court justice. Have introduced absolutely terrible legislation.

The Democrats may actually get things done, especially if there’s also a Democratic president in office and they can work together reasonably harmoniously. They may pass good legislation regarding things you care about. On the state level, your senate and assembly have a great deal of influence over the doings of your daily life, thanks to the heavy emphasis on states’ rights in the US landscape. North Carolina passed HB2 because by the time anyone realized what was going on, it was too late. I don’t want to be like North Carolina. I want to choose not just Senators and Representatives who match my ideas for what I want on a federal level, but also members of my state house who will pass laws I like and support causes I view as important.

I’m voting on the ridiculously long list of propositions because they matter to me. I’ll be voting on local electoral matters as well. Because the ‘smaller’ people get, the more influence they have, in a strange sort of way. I can send Loretta Sanchez or Kamala Harris to the senate and know that either one of them will do important work, but the person I vote in on a local level is going to change things in my immediate landscape. Will appoint the planning commissioners who determine whether development is allowed to go forward. Will be involved in the drafting of ordinances that change the way I live on a daily basis.

I harp on about local politics all the time because it really is important, and the decisions you make really do matter. Feel like your vote for president, or even Congress, doesn’t really matter? Local races are sometimes won on a margin of less than 100 votes, which means that your vote, and that of a friend, can have a serious impact on the outcome. That’s pretty sweet, but also pretty chilling, because if enough people are organized in support of an opposition candidate, they can tip the scales.

You need to make up your own mind about which sections of the ballot you choose to vote, and how you’re going to vote them. But I really do implore you to vote, rather than not turning up this year at all. Better yet, take that frustrated energy and bring it to a local candidate or cause you like and feel passionate about, because you could make a tremendous difference with the power of your voice and efforts, and that can be an empowering antidote to feeling left out of the electoral process.

Image: Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, Flickr