Your high school government class (or Schoolhouse Rock!) probably taught you about the three branches of government – the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. We’re currently in the midst of a contentious time for all three – right now, a polarizing presidential race and a heavily debated judicial appointment are making headlines across the world. However, that last branch- the legislative branch- is taking up a large chunk of your ballot this November as well. Why aren’t we talking as much about those races?
The legislative body is the one who writes and votes on the laws that you and I are living by today. This is incredibly impactful because they are representing your district or state– if there’s any problem in your district, your state and federal House Representatives are the ones you’ll contact. And on top of that, if there’s anything in your state as a whole that causes an issue and needs a change, your senators are the ones who will be the first to write legislation on it.
A great example of this is Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (MI-12), who wrote legislation last winter about banning PFAs, harmful chemicals that can find their way into our drinking water. And why did she write this legislation? Because residents in her district expressed their concern. This led her to research PFAs and realize that not just her district but the whole country could benefit from legislation against them.
These sorts of things are why paying attention to legislators specifically needs to be a priority during these contentious election cycles– your Congressional representatives hear you on a personal basis. If you want something to change, you probably won’t be contacting the president, because you know they have a lot on their plate– but you can contact your senators and congressmen, who are elected to hear and act on your concerns personally. That aspect of democracy is incredibly important, and needs to be reflected on our ballots. Don’t ignore these candidates– learn about them, and make sure you’re voting for who you believe is best for wherever you’re from.
So how can you research these candidates? First, you need to see if they’re an incumbent (running for re-election) or not. Second, check their campaign websites for information about their platform. Hopefully, those sites have information not just on their policy points, but also what they’ve done in the past, including former positions and any reason they might have ended up running for public office.
Second, if they’re an incumbent candidate, you can check how they’ve voted on any legislation during their time in office. If there’s a certain issue that’s important to you, try to find bills that focused on it during the 116th Congress. For example, if environmental issues are important to you, see how the candidate voted on the Great American Outdoors Act– the biggest environmental/public lands bill passed this year (and, honestly, during the 116th Congress as a whole). This method can help you find out if the candidate puts the money where their mouth is when it matters most. Bonus tip: if they sponsored a bill, that means they cared enough to write it up– points for them!
Lastly, check to see if there’s been any debates between the candidates running. This way, you’ll be able to see the candidates head-to-head and decide who you think has a better vision for who they’ll be representing. Additionally, see how they speak about issues in individual interviews! It’ll show you whether or not they actually know about the issues they’re fighting for.
These steps aren’t even close to a comprehensive list of how you can research legislative candidates. However, they’re a good place to start! Looking into these races will allow you to go to the polls informed and ready to vote not just for the president, but those who will be representing you and your interests in Congress.
Don’t be an uninformed voter for anything on your ballot. Research candidates and issues. You shouldn’t be filling in ballot bubbles based on who your friends and family are telling you to vote for– you are your own person with your own beliefs that should be reflected on the ballot you cast this November. Make sure that you’re researching everything you can about these candidates and voting for who you think will truly help your city, district, county, state, and country. Don’t get so caught up in the presidential race that you forget about ones that are just as important, like our legislative races. Make your voice heard by utilizing one of your oldest rights as a citizen.