By Cleo Wagner
We tend to focus on the biggest positions in an election year. President, Senators, Representatives. Then, we go to vote and see that there are tons of people on the ballot we have never even heard of. So who are these people?
Those are down-ballot candidates and they probably have more impact on your daily life than you think. These are the people in charge of taking care of our communities and meeting the needs of the people who live there. From school board members to police commissioners- even judges, down-ballot candidates make important decisions that impact your well-being and determine whether you have access to reliable services. These are things like public transportation, healthcare, and education. (Just to name a few)
“When you are in local government, you are on the ground, and you are looking into the eyes and hearts of the people you are there to serve. It teaches you to listen; it teaches you to be expansive in the people with whom you talk to, and I think that that engagement gives you political judgment.”– Valerie Jarett
Despite how central these decisions are to all of us, down-ballot candidates receive the least amount of votes. In a typical election year only around 50% of eligible voters bother to vote and around a third or more of them don’t even fill out the whole ballot.1 After all, what’s the point of voting for someone when we don’t even know who they are and what they stand for?
It’s time to change the way we think about voting.
The importance of down-ballot candidates is hugely overlooked simply because nobody really knows who they are. More of us need to know about the easily available resources that we can use to get to know these candidates and their plans for our futures. One example is BallotReady, a service that will give you information on any candidate or measure on your local ballot. This is just one of the resources you can use to learn more about your down ballot candidates- there are a ton out there. If there are improvements you want to see in your communities, go out and make it known. Attend candidate forums or local meetings to get to know the people who are running to serve you. That’s exactly what they are there for.
Let’s open up conversations about down-ballot candidates with our friends and the people in our communities. When we skip out on voting for local positions, we are giving up our right to choose the best candidates for ourselves and leaving it up to someone else. The information is out there. The right candidates are out there. We just need to get out there and make our votes count.