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Every Election Matters—Here’s Why

Updated: Jan 5, 2021

October 1, 2019 | by Adrienne Kirschner

We tend to talk about the 2020 elections as the “presidential election,” but our government is more than one office. There is so much more happening–and more at stake–than just the presidency.

While the presidential election is extremely important, there are quite a few special elections and off-cycle elections in the next several months, and many down-ballot races in 2020 that will have a very real impact on our lives and the future of our country. 

Federal Level:

Getting Trump out of office is a top priority, but we also need to focus on Congress. Congress has two critical functions: legislating and conducting oversight. We must elect people to Congress who will be committed to executing these duties, no matter who wins the presidency.

Oversight and legislation are inextricably linked. For example, we know from the Mueller Report that there was unprecedented foreign interference in our 2016 elections. To properly address this, Congress must first conduct the necessary investigations and then prepare legislation to adequately protect our country from future interference.

We’ve witnessed proper legislative oversight firsthand when Democrats gained the majority in the House this year. They set to work immediately to address this through bills like HR1, a broad anti-corruption bill, but the Republican-majority Senate has stonewalled. So, in terms of who to vote for in 2020, we must vote for those who truly have our nation’s best interests at heart.

What’s in play:

In the House, all 435 seats are up for reelection in 2020. We need to hold at least 219 of our current 235 seats to maintain a Democrat majority. 

In the Senate, 35 seats (12 Democrat, 23 Republican) are up for reelection. Democrats need to flip 3-4 seats to gain a majority in the Senate (depending on whether or not Democrats win the presidency, as the vice president is the tie-breaker in Senate votes). This gives Democrats an advantage…fewer seats to defend frees up resources to focus on flipping seats. But it is by no means a sure thing.

What’s at stake:

Here’s what we gain if Democrats hold the majority in the House and flip the Senate:

  • Confirmation of Supreme Court Justices & lower federal court judges

  • Confirmation of cabinet members

  • Actionable oversight

  • Passing legislation (election security, gun sense, etc.)

What we can do:

If you can volunteer on one of these campaigns, do it. You can canvas, phone/text bank, write postcards, etc. There is plenty of work to be done and we need all the help we can get. 

State Level:

State level elections include gubernatorial races, state secretaries of state, attorneys general, and state legislatures. Notoriously under-appreciated, these elections affect things like:

  • Election oversight (secretary of state)

  • Law enforcement (attorney general)

  • Redistricting (state legislatures)

What’s in play:

Twenty-two states have off-cycle elections this year. On the ballot in November 2019: 3 governorships, 3 attorneys general, 3 state secretaries of state, and several state legislatures.


What’s at stake:

The long-term implications are staggering. For example, the census only happens every 10 years. The census is used in redistricting state congressional districts, which impacts all future elections. And given everything we’ve seen in the news recently about partisan gerrymandering, who do you want making these decisions for you?

“The candidates who win state legislative races later this year and in 2020 will decide who wields power in Washington for a decade.” 

Another factor to consider: If Trump were to be reelected, we could be turning more to our state governments to protect us from potentially harmful policies. We’ve already seen governors take action. This summer, 24 governors pledged to defend clean air standards, and state AGs have played a critical role in pushing back against Trump, filing lawsuits challenging his policies. 

For a more complete list of all of the policies determined at the state level, click here.

What we can do:

Don’t wait until 2020 to take action on this. There are elections just two months away. But there’s still time to canvas, phonebank, and volunteer to drive people to the polls. Mark your calendar for November 5, 2019. And make a plan to vote

Local/Municipal Level: 

Local elections are frequently ignored, which is surprising given the impact they have on our daily lives. Much of this has to do with a lack of funding. The “big” races get the media coverage and the well-paid, expert staff. Local elections are typically run on a shoe-string budget and are staffed primarily with volunteers. Because of this, we don’t hear as much about them and most of us conclude (wrongly) that the lack of coverage is indicative of a lack of importance. In fact, the opposite is true. 

A recent example: The city of Oakland, California elected a new mayor, Libby Schaaf, in 2014. After President Trump took office, Mayor Schaaf was faced with a daunting decision: warn her city’s residents of impending ICE raids and incur the wrath of the president or remain silent. Schaaf chose to defy the president, warn Oakland residents, and remind them of their rights, stating publicly, “It is Oakland’s legal right to be a sanctuary city and we have not broken any laws. We believe our community is safer when families stay together.”

While undocumented immigrants cannot vote, this is a great example of the importance of showing up and voting in local elections to ensure that you are being represented by someone who will uphold the values of your city, even under great pressure to do otherwise.

What’s in play:

Two-thirds of America’s largest cities have elections this year, and Axios recently reported that there are over 26,000 local races that Democrats are targeting. That’s more than we can possibly list here, but we can help flip those seats.

What’s at stake:

Our daily life hangs in the balance–things like pedestrian safety, potholes in our streets, local public transportation, public school funding and determining curriculum standards, funding for police and fire departments, local property taxes and more.

Additionally, most politicians get their start at the local level. Who we elect locally is what creates the “bench” for bigger roles in government down the road. Showing up now will help determine who will be representing us at the state or federal level ten or twenty years from now.

It’s no exaggeration to say that your vote could be the one that makes all the difference. Voter turnout is extremely low for local elections and the victors win by a very small margins. Quite literally, the winner is determined by who ‘shows up’ at the ballot box.

What you can do:

Find out if you have an upcoming local election. There’s still time to volunteer on a local campaign. Once you know what races will be on the ballot, you can reach out to campaign teams directly to volunteer. And vote. 

You can also go one step further. Run for something in 2020. It’s not too late to throw your hat in the ring.

Bottom line: there is a lot more at stake than just the presidency. If we elect a new president, but fail to flip the Senate, what real legislation will be passed? If we fail to vote in state elections, who will be deciding our district maps for the next ten years? Every election matters. Down ballot voting matters. There are thousands of seats to flip at the federal, state, and local levels.

We can do it, but it’s going to take all of us getting out there and taking action. We vote them out by registering voters, volunteering on campaigns, and staying engaged. Together.

Let’s get to work.

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