Most kids from the 80s and 90s remember when Schoolhouse Rock introduced them to a lonely bill who sang his way through Capitol Hill in hopes of becoming a law. The classic 1975 episode serves as the base political knowledge for most voting adults from the latchkey era. In roughly three minutes, “I’m Just a Bill” highlights how U.S. citizens use Congress to get necessary laws passed, making Congress members some of the most crucial voices for engaged Americans.
Despite this reality, a national poll conducted by StudyFinds revealed that only 42% of the 346 adults who they surveyed knew the name of at least one local member of Congress. That’s extremely unfortunate.
As the 2020 election comes to a close, the presidential race isn't the only key battle taking place on the ballot. Thirty-five seats in the Senate are up for grabs and these crucial seats will determine which political party controls the national legislature. The likelihood of tighter gun restrictions, more cash flow for legal cannabis, better prison reform, more reproductive rights, and a larger pandemic relief package hinges on who sits in the Senate as much as it depends on who’s ruling the Oval Office. For this reason, it’s important that Americans don’t focus their voting power solely on the leading presidential candidates.
Even outside of Congress, local politicians affect the daily lives of their constituents just as much, if not more than, a commander sitting in an office hundreds of miles away. The recent outcomes in high-profiled cases like the Breonna Taylor murder, drives this point home. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron will be up for re-election in 2024. If he chooses to continue his AG gig, he’ll need his supporters to outweigh the hosts of locals who are disappointed with how he handled Taylor’s case. But for now, all eyes are on 2020.
With COVID-19 getting worse and each state handling the pandemic as they see fit, it’s even more crucial for voters to take a closer look down the ballot. Pull up a sample ballot then study the candidates running for local and state offices because lives are literally on the line.
In an increased effort to arm voters with important election information, here are three non-presidential positions to review before voting (and some key races to watch).
After voters select their presidential choice, they’re provided with senatorial options. Unlike the president, senators can run for office every six years for as long as they like. Due to the large number of senators, the legislatures are split into three classes and every two years a different class goes up for election. This year, 34 members from Class III and Georgia Senator David Perdue are back on the ballot—23 Republicans in total.
Based on the states where senators are up for re-election, Democrats find themselves in a position to take control of The Senate. If Republican candidates fail to secure their seats, the losses could lead to more progressive laws on health reform, gun control, cannabis legalization, policing, LGBTQ+ rights, and reproductive health. Political analysts from leading sources cite nine states that will determine whether the Democratic Party takes the lead or Republicans continue their reign.
- States to watch: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
- Races to watch: Perdue(R) vs Jon Ossoff(D) in Georgia; Joni Ernst(R) vs Theresa Greenfield(D) in Iowa; Steve Daines(R) vs Steve Bullock(D) in Montana.
Every two years all 435 seats in the House of Representatives go up for election. The seats are allocated based on the population of each state’s districts and allows representatives to serve unlimited terms, which is why the Census is so important. Two years after Trump’s 2016 presidential victory, Democrats showed up in full force to secure enough votes to win control of the House. This year, House elections align with the presidential race, but by all accounts Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democratic congress members are expected to maintain majority control.
Even though Republicans don’t have a clear shot at taking control of the House, there are still some pretty interesting states to observe and some close races to watch. Also, Democrats have a chance to strengthen their influence and become a super majority.
- States to watch: Minnesota, New Jersey, Texas, Ohio, Georgia, New York, Utah, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.
- Races to watch: Jeff Van Drew(R) vs Amy Kennedy(D) New Jersey 2nd district; Rob Woodall(R) vs Carolyn Bourdeaux(D) Georgia 7th district; Collin C. Peterson(D) vs Michelle Fischbach(R) Minnesota.
As voters journey further down the ballot, positions become more local. Such is the case with lawmakers who work in their State House and State Senate. Both chambers pull leaders from various districts within a region and operate similarly to their national counterparts (but on a much smaller scale). However, it’s important not to disregard these hometown leaders, especially during this election, which takes place during one of the most devastating pandemics of our lifetime.
State legislatures have the power to create laws that will determine how each state responds to the COVID-19 emergency and how much power state governors hold, during the second wave of the pandemic.
- States to watch: Your own!
- Races to watch: Voters should focus on their state, but it doesn’t hurt to follow elections that take place in some of the states with leading coronavirus cases: Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois, California, and Florida.
The bottom half of the ballot will have an assortment of positions that include every political role from public service commissioner and tax commissioner to sheriff and coroner. Don’t stop at the top and don’t let a lack of enthusiasm for the presidential candidates stop you from voting up and down the ballot.
Don’t forget that you can do your part by visiting Complex’s Pull Up & Vote site—where you can double-check your registration, register to vote if you haven’t, and request a mail-in ballot.