Election fever is quite rightly reaching boiling point – after all, it’s not every day (or indeed every year) that something quite so momentous as an election to decide the next President of the United States comes around. With all the attention rightly directed at the White House, it can sometimes be easy to forget what else is decided when voters turn out at the ballot boxes.
In the United Kingdom, we don’t have a Senate or a House of Representatives (hell, one of our chambers of the legislative branch isn’t even decided by the public). We also don’t vote directly for our Prime Minister – it is not their name on the ballot when we go to vote. Instead, we vote for our Member of Parliament (MP), and the number of elected MPs decides which party leader will become the Prime Minister. A bit like if the number of senators determined which leader became president instead of a direct vote (and before anyone comments, I do know that the president is determined by the Electoral College vote and is therefore not a true direct vote, but you know what I mean!)
You can imagine my surprise then, when I saw a ballot paper in the United States. That thing must take hours to fill out – unless you go with one party down-ballot.
Voters must remember that it is not just the president who is being chosen in November. Given the slim majority Republicans have in the Senate, it is not out of the question that Democrats stand a chance of reclaiming the chamber. There is also a chance that the Republicans could extend their lead. When margins are this slim, voting matters more than ever. It is this kind of scenario when voters should feel more energized than normal, as it stands to reason that their vote is more important and will make more of a difference than in a safe election.
The House of Representatives is also up for grabs, although it would take a minor miracle for the Republicans to make that chamber competitive, let alone win it. But there are still good reasons to vote. Your representative knows the issues in your community much more thoroughly than your senator and definitely much better than the president ever will. If you don’t like what’s going on in your district, you have the power to make the change happen – and if you do like it, you can guarantee at least two more years of more of the same! But not if you don’t vote.
Speaking of knowing the hyperlocal issues, you’ll also have the chance to vote for all your elected officials down to the county sheriff! These are often the people who make the most change in a constituency – the people who you will see out and about most days and the ones who know your community as well as you do. If you don’t vote for these people, you’re relying on the people who spend the vast majority of their time in Washington to make things happen in your area. Give some consideration to your local officials, who don’t have the burden of Washington-level lawmaking gnawing away at them and whose only concern is making your part of the country a better place.
In what is undoubtedly a crucial election cycle, whether you are a Democrat, a Republican, a third-party voter, or unaffiliated, don’t ever forget how powerful your vote is. You have the power to put a stop to politics you don’t like, to make change, or to say “yes, more of the same please!”
Get registered to vote, and get educated about the policy platforms. A well-educated voter is a happy and confident voter.