The Serious Business of Down-Ballot

By M. Benevento

Fact: The United States has the busiest election calendar on the planet. Compared to citizens of the U.K., Germany, and Japan, we have more opportunities to vote during a single decade than they have in a lifetime. Literally thousands of Americans run for office each year, seeking posts in legislative, judicial and administrative arenas.

Of course, the high-profile elections – for president, U.S. senator, governor – get widespread attention and the largest share of air time.  But lower-visibility state and municipal contests are seriously high-stakes, in that voters are likely to be directly impacted by their results. Think of it: Down-ballot outcomes affect how we educate our children, how we protect (or fail to protect) our surrounding environment, how we spend and invest local and state funds, how we administer justice – in short, how we live and (hopefully) thrive in our communities every day.

Also: Where high-profile elections tend to be more polarized, down-ballot issues and candidates often offer the most accessible grounds for agreement within and even across party lines.  After all, who doesn’t want clean water to drink, safe public spaces to enjoy, good schools nearby? 

In an article entitled “Down-Ballot Races Are Critical to Turning Texas Blue” (The Nation, 2/18/2020), Katrina vanden Heuvel pointed out the impact of down-ballot races – and how they may define and demarcate the lines of voting in the near future:

The U.S. House of Representatives, won by Democrats in the 2018 wave, has passed dozens of progressive policies, including landmark legislation on equal pay and a major bill on climate change. But unless Democrats win a majority in the U.S. Senate in 2020, those bills will continue to gather dust.

In the states, congressional district maps are on the line as the 2020 Census will trigger redistricting. Democrats’ only hope to guard against the sort of gerrymandering that has taken place in Ohio and North Carolina is to win big in state legislatures.

Although we have NM Democrats currently in place in Washington, and Democrats in the majority in our state legislature, vanden Heuvel’s warning is one we mustn’t ignore.  As the right wing has unfortunately proven in far too many instances, accumulated down-ballot races eventually produce strong effects at higher and higher levels. That’s a very strong reason to follow the progress of our Democratic primaries and get familiar with our chosen candidates (watch for our DPBC Candidate Focus on upcoming Fridays). Most important, we must help get out the vote for each and every Democrat, up and down the November ticket, bottom to top. It’s about beating Trump, but not only about beating Trump. Just like every vote, every candidate counts.