National media is entirely preoccupied by Joe Biden and Donald Trump’s ongoing barroom brawl. But there are 95,000 other seats across America up for grabs in our local towns and cities; in fact, [pullquote position="right"]96% of all the votes you cast between now and November 3 will be in what’s called “down-ballot” races[/pullquote], which appear not on the top of your ballot but below. If you want to effect change—right here, right now, right in your neighborhood—you need to punch the boxes (or color in the circles) for contests that garner less press.
Aviva Rosman who founded BallotReady, an interactive app that provides any voter who types in a ZIP code with transparent information about every candidate on the ballot, says “When we started, we were told that people don’t care about down-ballot elections.That’s not true. It’s just that it’s so difficult to learn enough about them. If you have the information, you care.”
But why should you care to learn about and vote in down-ballot races? Does it really matter who is your county prosecutor or your sheriff or your district’s school board members? Why take the time to learn about those seemingly trivial contests?
Let’s take some examples, starting right below the presidential race and working our way down.
Still don’t care about down-ballot races?
(How did I find that quote? Easy-peasy. Typed “Cory Bush” into the search box on Ballotpedia.)
Not convinced yet? Let’s go further down-ballot.
Also on your ballot: Propositions, sometimes called referendums or questions, that let voters give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on controversial state issues which will sometimes directly affect your state taxes or your lifestyle. You get to decide. This year Michigan, North Dakota and New Jersey have questions about whether they should legalize marijuana for recreational use. Nevada’s ballot includes a question about whether to keep a “tampon tax” or eliminate extra fees on feminine hygiene products. In Massachusetts, there’s a proposition on transgender rights. Do you care? Better vote down-ballot.
And then there’s school board member races, often at the very bottom of the ballot. Yet, if you care about local education, these races are critical. Why? School boards have a lot of power. They select and evaluate district superintendents, decide on local budgets tied to your local taxes, weigh in what your child learns in school and what extracurricular and sports programs are offered. Hey, they even approve school calendars that determine when your kids have spring break. (Maybe you’d like to run yourself! Any adult citizen over age 18 is eligible.)
[pullquote]The non-partisan Cook Political Report is clear on the importance of these low-profile contests, explaining, “they can have a transformative effect on politics and policy on the state and local level.”[/pullquote]
You want change? Vote down-ballot.
Laura Waters is the founder and managing editor of New Jersey Education Report, formerly a senior writer/editor with brightbeam. Laura writes about New Jersey and New York education policy and politics. As the daughter of New York City educators and parent of a son with special needs, she writes frequently about the need to listen to families and ensure access to good public school options for all. She is based in New Jersey, where she and her husband have raised four children. She recently finished serving 12 years on her local school board in Lawrence, New Jersey, where she was president for nine of those years. Early in her career, she taught writing to low-income students of color at SUNY Binghamton through an Educational Opportunity Program.
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