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Want To Make A Difference In The Election? Vote All The Way Down The Ballot

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

We’re still six months out from the U.S. presidential election, and we’ve already seen too much of Donald Trump. And Joe Biden. And the vice presidential nominees, the caucuses, the Electoral College — you name it. It’s no secret that when it comes to elections, federal races take up an overwhelming amount of space in national media and, consequently, voters’ minds. In a time of congressional stagnation, international crisis, and growing polarization, this overrepresentation is building on already-present feelings of political apathy, leading to some voters wanting to avoid elections altogether. But doing so would squander the opportunity to vote in a new generation of leaders — ones who Gen Zers might actually care about. The solution? We need to focus on down-ballot voting.

Down-ballot voting is the act of voting for every office on your ballot instead of just the “biggest,” flashiest ones that attract the most attention — think the president, house representatives, and senators. Local and state seats such as attorney general, governor, state senator, and even comptroller (the chief financial officer and auditor of your city’s agencies) are genuinely influential players in our daily lives, and it’s imperative to pay attention to who is holding those positions. While Congress and the White House are obviously significant pillars of our government, it’s especially important in major election years to remember they do not make up the entirety of the government. (Remember, the loudest voices aren’t always the most impactful ones.) 

For one thing, local and state governments sit at the epicenter of some of today’s most pressing national issues, whether they’re handed down by the federal government or born locally. Abortion access is a prime example of the former. When the Supreme Court killed Roe v. Wade just over two years ago, this country saw a vigorous rebirth of the centuries-old “states’ rights” argument, and since then, state assemblies have taken the issue up in arms, moving swiftly to either adamantly protect or contest the right to choose. Meanwhile, issues such as book bans dominated local school boards for years before they finally worked their way up to federal attention, with Biden recently condemning the practice at this year’s State of the Union.

The list goes on. Marijuana legalization, public transportation, labor laws, and police reform are just some of the state-owned issues that impact the majority of voters. Let’s not forget voting rights, given that many states are in charge of managing and legislating their own elections, which is why we hear about so many instances of gerrymandering and voter suppression. So, when it comes to shifting the needle on each of these topics both in your own area and on a larger scale, it’s crucial to take the time and research which candidates are up for the job and passionate about making change.

Another great benefit to down-ballot voting is that grassroots campaigns tend to be more successful at local levels than they are nationally. This makes local offices more available to a plethora of qualified candidates rather than just the usual “pale, stale, and male” — AKA older white men, often wealthy career politicians whose biases and ideologies have dominated U.S. politics since its birth. While national elections have immense cost and resource barriers as national, smaller-scale elections allow candidates from marginalized backgrounds and those who have not always been platformed to rise in the ranks and advocate for their communities. This is what Gen-Z for Change seeks to highlight through the RepreZent program, a coalition of diverse endorsees under 30 years old running for office nationwide. 

Moreover, while we’ve seen candidates run for Senate seats in states they sometimes don’t even live in (*cough cough* Dr. Oz…), local candidates tend to be connected to much smaller, tighter-knit communities and have a deeper understanding of the challenges these communities face and how they can best be addressed. 

So, whether you still have a primary left to go or you’re already focused on the general election in November, take the time to research your down-ballot candidates and find the ones you believe will make your most desired impact in your community. Oftentimes, it’s the local governments, shielded from most bureaucratic barriers, that make the most impactful changes, and through informed down-ballot voting, yours could too.

Claire Simon is a 18-year-old organizer born and raised in DC as well as a rising freshman at Harvard University. Currently, she serves as the Interim Communications Director and Election Projects Chair at the youth-led nonprofit, Gen-Z for Change. She also serves as an advisor for HeadCount, a national non-profit that works with musicians and their fan communities to promote participation in democracy. Passionate about voting rights, reproductive healthcare, and climate action, especially, Claire hopes to continue her organizing efforts in college while also enjoying non-political hobbies and extracurriculars.