There is a presidential election coming up. Surely you know this.
But the presidency is not the only office that will be decided on Nov. 6. We will also be voting for a host of state and local representatives and ballot measures whose importance must not be diminished by the hubbub of the presidential race.
The Constitution entrusts states with those rights not specifically designated to the federal government. States thus have tremendous control over the lives of their citizens. School systems, for example, are maintained by municipalities but required to meet state standards and comply with state mandates. Many taxes and marriage laws are state-specific. We, as voters, therefore have the power to approve our state representatives and amendments to constitutions.
We cannot overlook the importance of thoughtfully selecting these officials, nor can we overlook the importance of conscientiously selecting local officials who oversee district schools, courts, security and infrastructure. If you claim that your vote does not matter because your state is decidedly blue or red, then perhaps you are not looking at the right election.
On Election Day, we also have the opportunity to vote on certain proposed amendments to our state constitutions. Remember California’s Proposition 8? That 2008 ballot measure, approved by a margin of only 600,000 votes, amended the California Constitution such that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Connecticut does not have any such proposals in this year’s election, but Maryland, Washington, Minnesota and Maine ballots will all feature measures determining the legality of same-sex marriage.
Passing of California’s Proposition 34, another state measure, would repeal the death penalty, substituting it for life imprisonment without parole. In Florida, one of the 11 ballot propositions concerns abortion funding. If approved, Florida’s Amendment 6 would forbid state tax dollars from fronting abortion costs except in cases involving rape, incest and life of the mother. The decisions of the voting public will affect these states’ legal codes and thus the laws that govern all of their citizens. Why, then, do we not approach state elections with the same level of seriousness that we have for the presidential race?
Before casting a ballot, it is imperative that we know for whom and what we are voting. Project Vote Smart provides an extensive database of information on all United States elections, as does Ballotpedia. Study your district. Know your candidates. Examine their records and understand their stances in relation to yours.
It may be tempting to simply vote down the party line. Blindly doing so, however, locks us into an ideology: we choose exclusively Democrat or Republican because it is convenient to assume that a member of one party closely represents our own values based solely on his or her political affiliation. For instance, the congressional race in Massachusetts’ 6th District between incumbent Democrat John F. Tierney and pro-choice, openly gay Republican Richard Tisei does not draw along historic party lines. Tisei’s economic policies may place him on the right side of the political spectrum, but his appearance on the Republican ticket should not disqualify him from the consideration of Democratic voters. Conversely, congressmen belonging to the Blue Dog Coalition identify as moderate Democrats and should not be neglected by Republican voters. If we actually believe that each Democrat’s objectives are better than those of his Republican counterpart’s, or if we truly think that each Republican representative will embody our values more closely than his Democratic equivalent, then so be it; vote exclusively blue or red. But we must be sure to select our representatives based on merits rather than party association.
Our government derives legitimacy from the consent of the governed. We can only issue this consent by carefully choosing the individuals we see best fit for state and local office based on our thoughtful consideration of their platforms. Blinded by party politics, you’ll never know what you could be missing.
A. R. Beizer is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This piece is part of the News’ Friday Forum. Click here to read more.
Correction: Nov. 6
A previous version of this column misidentified Ballotpedia as an election-specific offshoot of Wikipedia. In fact, Ballotpedia has never been associated with Wikipedia.