image: House Speaker Paul Ryan, up for reelection in 2016
The 2016 election will likely prove to be one of the most important elections in recent history. The people we choose as our leaders will have a say in a number of important issues facing the nation. But in all the talk about the Presidential campaign, another issue tends to get lost, which can be just as important: the down-ballot races.
What Are Down-Ballot Races?
Even though it’s commonly called the Presidential Election, there are a number of other races that will be on your ballot on November 8th. Usually the candidates for President appear first. Candidates for other offices, which appear further down the list, are called down-ballot races.
Just below the Presidential choices will be the contests for Senate and the House of Representatives. Other offices depend on your area, but can include city council, judgeships, city and district attorneys and more. The lower on the list a race is, the less likely the average voter is to be informed about it.
Many voters skip those sections entirely. Others may pick a name blindly, without really knowing who they are. Do you know who’s running for comptroller in your state? Are you aware of their policy positions, or their track records? Can you even list the duties of a comptroller? Perhaps you can—but many voters can’t.
The Importance of Down-Ballot Races
It’s essential to remember that the President is not the only office of importance you’re voting for. Each person on the ballot has some power to make a difference in your life and those of the other people they represent—whether for good or ill.
In particular the House and Senate races are very important and often overlooked. In order to get anything done during his or her term of office, the president needs the support of those two legislating bodies. This year, thirty-four Senate seats are being voted on, as well as all 435 places in the House of Representatives. Therefore, when you vote for your presidential candidate, be sure to know who you want to fill those positions as well. Choose people who will support your chosen candidate and help them to make a difference.
Some voters participate in a practice called “coattailing.” After voting for a President of a particular party, they’ll automatically vote for every down-ballot candidate of that party as well, to try to boost their overall effectiveness once elected. Others do just the opposite; if they believe that the candidate they don’t support will win; they’ll vote a straight ticket of down-ballot candidates for the opposite party, to limit the new President’s power. This is called “balancing.”
Neither of these is a particularly wise or advisable way to participate in the electoral process. Rather, it’s important to research each candidate individually and know what they stand for. That way, you can vote for the person you genuinely believe will do the best job in office.
Other Down-Ballot Issues
Down-ballot races can pose a particular problem for people on the West Coast. Political commentators, eager to call the election as quickly as possible, will often announce the projected results before polls have closed in the Pacific Time Zone. Believing their vote no longer matters, many in the western U.S. end up not going to the polls, with the result that they also don’t cast a vote in any of the down-ballot races.
In any election, presidential or mid-term, but especially this year, it’s important not to let things like this deter you. It’s important to stay informed about the races in your area, make time to show up at the polls and vote for the candidates you support. America is such a large and diverse country that sometimes by comparison as an individual we can feel a little small. But our voices and our votes count, and not just our futures, but those of our families and our city or town depends on it. And look on the bright side: If you vote, and things don’t go your way, you’ve at least given yourself the legitimate right to gripe!