The one thing to know before you vote

When it comes to power in America, remember to vote for the little folks down at the bottom of your ballot.


Many of the biggest issues affecting our day-to-day lives are determined by state and local officials who are running for office down here — as well as ballot measures.

But these races at the bottom of the ballot often receive less attention — and fewer votes — than federal positions that appear at the top of your ballot.

Why? Well many people who vote simply don’t fill out their entire ballot. It’s a serious issue.

And I get it. I mean, how can you be expected to know what a comptroller does? Does anyone really know?

And you may not be familiar with all of the other names you see on your ballot.

But these state and local government officials are going to be vital for holding on to what we have –– protecting many of the rights that extremist Republicans in Washington and the Supreme Court are actively trying to erode.

Down ballot races are also critical if we want to advance progressive changes at the state level –– like raising the minimum wage, instituting ranked choice voting, inscribing abortion rights into state constitutions, expanding Medicaidprotecting trans youth, making public higher education more affordable. All of these become possible when we pay attention to down ballot races.

Control of many state legislatures is often determined down here — by a handful of races that can swing in either direction based on a relatively small number of votes.

Republicans have been focused on state and local races for decades — especially when it comes to funding them.

It’s long past time for the Democratic Party to do the same.

On top of that, ballot roll-off — a phenomenon where people vote for top-of-ticket candidates but then don’t vote for down ballot offices — has been a huge problem for Democrats as of late in key battleground states.

A recent analysis of presidential election results from 10 swing states dating back to 2012 showed that in contested races, the Democratic presidential nominee at the top of the ticket received more votes 87% of the time compared to Democratic state legislative candidates at the bottom of the ballot.

On the flip side, the Republican nominee for president received more votes than Republican state legislative candidates just 45% of the time.

Folks, it’s not enough to just vote for President — or even Governor — and call it a day. As we have seen, the consequences of doing so are enormous.

So here are a few things you can do to get prepared to vote down-ballot.

Get your ballot early — request a sample ballot from your local election office. Take it home and familiarize yourself with it.

Next, research ALL down ballot candidates. There are some great organizations to guide you — Sister DistrictThe States ProjectBolts Magazine, and People’s Action are just a few. I’ve linked to them below, but feel free to leave a comment with other local resources you’ve found helpful.

Lastly, connect with your friends and share this information. Get them to vote down-ballot, too. Research shows that texting a friend about voting increases turnout.

We don’t win overnight. We win by connecting with our communities. Paying attention to candidates up and down the ballot — even organizing for them.

When it comes to power in America, remember to vote for the little folks down at the bottom of your ballot.


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Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fourteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "Saving Capitalism." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, co-founder of the nonprofit Inequality Media and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, Inequality for All.