By Lily Herman
When it comes to filling out your ballot on Election Day, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the choices as a voter. After all, ballots don’t just include the competitive federal races we’ve been hearing about in the news. There are plenty of critical smaller state and local campaigns, not to mention life-changing ballot measures, that never make headlines.
Luckily, there are ways to prepare. This election cycle there are comprehensive apps, such as BallotReady, that allow you to see every seat and initiative that’s on the docket for voters and give you the opportunity to learn more about candidates and see their issue stances. Here’s why you should get more informed on the numerous small battles taking place in your area.
State and Local Legislators Affect Your Daily Life
While much of the horse race coverage we see in the news and on TV is reserved for federal races, the people you elect on the state and local level have more of an impact on the day-to-day life of your community. “State legislators, mayors, and city council members make critical decisions on everything from affordable housing to public transportation to criminal justice reform,” says Monica Klein, Founding Partner of Seneca Strategies, a progressive political consulting firm.
Think that’s an exaggeration? You’d be surprised how many big decisions in your area are made by city-level officials as opposed to your congressperson, and they can have ripple effects. For instance, Klein notes, the school board of Santa Rosa County in Florida made the decision to replace sex education standards set in place by the state’s Department of Health and promote abstinence-only sex education to students, a choice that directly affects the reproductive health of hundreds of thousands of young people for years to come.
And in Virginia, the 2017 state elections have had a direct impact on residents’ healthcare. Atima Omara, Founder and President of Omara Strategy Group, says that the state’s Medicaid expansion, which brought healthcare to 400,000 Virginians, was only able to happen after a supportive governor and lieutenant governor were elected, not to mention countless new state legislators. “Because of our victories in 2017, we have been able ensure more Virginians get the healthcare they need,” she explains.
Ballot Measures Make a Difference
There’s more on your ballot that just candidates. All states feature various local and state initiatives that can transform your area, and it’s critical to know what’s on the line.
Just how high-stakes do these initiatives get? One ballot measure in Massachusetts, for example, is asking voters if they want to keep new statewide legislation in place that prohibits discrimination in public spaces on the basis of gender identity. If the majority of people vote “no” on the measure and the law, which was enacted in 2016, is repealed, it would put the transgender community at risk of losing legal accommodations and protections.
Meanwhile in Florida, voters are deciding whether or not to lift the state’s lifetime voting ban on convicted felons who’ve completed their sentences. Currently, Florida is one of only four states with a lifetime ban; the legislation affects nearly 1.4 million Floridians, roughly 20% of whom are Black. A “yes” vote on Amendment 4 reinstates voting rights, while a “no” upholds the lifetime ban. There are serious consequences no matter how Floridians vote.
While state and local races may not get all of the big press that the big congressional races do—and ballot measures aren’t always the most exciting policies to read through—they’re important for making your voice heard, especially at a time when our federal government has yet to overcome bigger problems.
“As we see the federal government attempting to erode our human and constitutional rights, the power of our state legislatures has never been more important,” explains Marisa Kabas of Crush The Midterms, a digital tool that helps people make personalized plans for supporting competitive campaigns. “Issues ranging from minimum wage to reproductive rights and gun safety live and die by our states' governing bodies, and it's time we take candidates running for them just as seriously as we do congressional and presidential elections.”