Right now, we’re focusing most of our energy and effort into throwing Trump out of the White House. After everything that’s happened in the last four years, 2020 has capped it: we need him gone. But in all that yelling about Trumpster fires, we tend to forget something: as important as presidential elections are, down ballot races — lower-profile or local elections — also affect our everyday lives. We don’t just need to show up for Joe Biden. We need to show up for our senate and house candidates, but especially for our Statehouse candidates and local officials. Those people are the ones making on-the-ground changes in our communities who can make the biggest differences in our lives.
As Kristin Graziano tells Scary Mommy, down ballot races, “affect our daily lives more than what happens in the state capital or Washington, D.C.” She would know. She’s running for sheriff of Charleston County, South Carolina, and when she wins, she’ll be the first female sheriff in the state (quite likely in the Deep South) and one of only five LGBTQ sheriffs in the nation. “People like to complain or say that their vote doesn’t matter, but these are the races where they’re sometimes decided by one or two votes,” she says.
Even more, when it comes to down ballot races, you’re not hollering into a void. Graziano says that “These candidates, and later elected officials, live in your community, and you can just pick up the phone and share with them what you want them to know. And they often want to hear from you too. That rapport helps guide their decisions, and you can be very influential.”
Down Ballot: Congress
Congressional races are super important. Remember from civics class: Congress makes the laws. Two of the biggest down ballot races are those for the Senate and House.
Senators are re-elected every six years, and right now, we have 33 of them up for re-election. You can see which of them here, on 270towin. That will also give you a good idea if your senate seat is considered “safe,” “likely,” “leans,” or “toss-up.” But don’t look at the map and lose hope when you see your state’s “safe” or “likely.” Keep in mind that 270towin isn’t like the person one Syfy show calls “Earth Magician Nate Silver” from FiveThirtyEight for his almost-prescient ability to call elections. They have my state as “likely” to go red in 2020, but according to a recent poll, Democratic Senate contender Jaime Harrison is only one point behind incumbent Trumpsterfire Lindsay Graham. It’s so narrow, in fact, that Mark Hamill’s gotten involved and showed up to a recent Zoom town hall.
Representatives, on the other hand, are re-elected every two years, so the entire House of Representatives is up for re-election in 2020. Right now, Democrats control the House; you can look on 270towin’s House reelection page to see which way your elected official leans.
And there’s a lot more you can do to influence these down ballot elections than vote. Every senatorial and house candidate will have virtual volunteer opportunities, including phone banking and texting. You can do these from the safety of your own house: no quarantine breaking necessary.
Then There’s Your Statehouse
When we think about elections, we think big and national: the president, and then the Senate and the House of Representatives. We don’t go much farther down ballot than that, if we think at all. Pause. Who’s your statehouse representative? Who’s your statehouse senator? Are they Democrats or Republicans?
You probably can’t answer those questions, can you?
That’s a major problem. Krystle Matthews, a Black woman who represents South Carolina’s State House District 117, says down ballot races are the reason she got into politics. “We’re actually bound by the laws in our own backyard,” she tells Scary Mommy. “The direct impact is in the down ballot races.” In other words: the president, vice president, senator, governor… all of them are important. But your statehouse senator or representative is your boots on the ground. In her race, for example, she talks about the importance of having a representative that understands the needs of working families, who are bearing the brunt of what’s happening in America right now.
Your statehouse representatives and senators are the ones who get your power turned on. They’re the ones who make decisions about, for example, if your schools will reopen in the fall. They oversee where the money for COVID-19 relief goes. They need, as Representative Matthews says, “balance and follow-through.”
Don’t know who’s running down ballot? Go to this page on Ballotopedia and enter your address. They’ll tell you who’s running for which seat. After you do that, look up the candidates for statehouse. Go to their websites.
Do you have questions for those down ballot candidates? Call them. Most likely, they’ll call or email you back. Like Graziano tells Scary Mommy, they want to hear from you.
Down Ballot Means More Than Just House and Senate Seats
Look at any ballot, and there are a whole lot of other positions out there. Those are the people who make decisions that affect your life now. For example, my county council is currently trying to pass an ordinance that would give some legal teeth to having a vacant lot nearby cleaned out. I want someone who cares about that kind of thing in my court, and so yes: those down ballot races are important.
Do you know who’s on your kid’s school board? You’ve got a lot to say to them. They’re likely running on a nonpartisan ticket, so you’ll have to look at their website. No website? Guess you have to call their cell phone and grill them. I don’t know about you, but my county council members have their cell phone numbers up on the internet, and my school board representatives have their personal email addresses available.
Graziano’s running for sheriff. Sound like small potatoes? She’ll be the one who oversees SWAT teams, detention centers, the overall police presence in downtown Charleston… that’s a big deal. She says she wants to work with lawmakers to help reform criminal justice for all South Carolinians. As a sheriff in one of the major cities, she’ll have the power to do that.
These down ballot races like hers are important. Graziano’s election matters deeply to the people of Charleston. And people like her aren’t running in a void. They want to talk to you. They want to hear what you have to say about the issues, what bothers you, what you think matters, and what changes you want to see. They’re the ones you call to get the lights turned on, to clean up your neighborhood, to assure police work with citizens in a respectful manner to de-escalate conflict (one of Graziano’s goals).
So yes: all those random names on the list for school board members, or county council members, or sheriff or solicitor or coroner? Those names matter. Those down ballot races matter.
Know your people. Know your issues. Those down ballot candidates want to hear from you. They need to hear from you.