Written by Rachel Hill, Community Outreach and Engagement Manager (North)
As we mourn the passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a legal giant and a liberating force for the most vulnerable, we may feel like things are out of our control. I know I certainly do. The loss of Justice Ginsberg feels twofold — the personal loss for a pioneering champion and the national loss for our democracy and the values she held dear.
Yes, casting a vote for President this November can help ensure that our next President picks a Supreme Court Justice who upholds the values of LGBTQ equality, reproductive justice, and racial equity, and we should vote in part for that reason. But I know I’m not alone in feeling like the federal politics of nominating a Supreme Court Justice are happening a little out of my reach.
Voting Down Ballot
Our votes absolutely play a role in what happens in DC, but to be honest, that’s never where I feel my vote the most. When I’m staring at the ballot the names that make me excited to press “select” aren’t always at the top, the presidential level. They’re all the names below, or what’s known as “down ballot,” the State Board of Education member, State Senator, State Representative, Mayor, City Councilmember, School Board member, District Judge and more. These are the folks who make the decisions that most directly impact my life.
We feel the impact of all levels of government, but the further “down ballot” you go, the more you’ll see that impact in your day to day existence, from highway construction to police budgets, ID laws to school curriculum. The names “down ballot” are those state and local elected officials are also more accessible to you, and are more likely to be the ones that work with you through situations where the government can help. I try to vote all the way down the ballot because I want to know I’ve had a say in the government representatives I’ll be dealing with directly.
Voting “down ballot” also has its perks in that your impact on the race is crystal clear. There’s no calculating electoral college math, it’s all by popular vote — and the margins are in the hundreds or the thousands instead of the millions. I happen to live in a district where the race was decided by only 200 votes. To put that in perspective, the stadium capacity for my high school football team is over 14,000, and my local synagogue serves about 400. If either of those groups voted as a bloc, they would absolutely have changed the outcome of that race.
My district isn’t an outlier by any means. In 2018, candidates for the Texas House won 14 races with less than 5% of the vote. A total of 27 House races were won with less than 10% of the vote. That’s a lot of room to have an impact, and that’s still a state level race. Local race margins can be even slimmer.
Okay, I’m convinced. How do I know who to vote for when it comes to voting “down ballot”?
One thing to note is that there is no more “straight ticket voting” or voting for every member of your party down the entire ballot. If you vote “down ballot,” you must select each candidate individually.
This is where sample ballots are your friend. When I vote, I build in a little time to look up a sample ballot and research any candidates I’m not sure about as part of my early voting plan. You can typically find a sample ballot on your county’s website — I often just google Dallas County Sample Ballot. You may need to know your precinct, which you can find on the same Texas Secretary of State site where you find polling places and hours.
Once you have your sample ballot you can look up the candidate’s website, their endorsements, or news articles that tell you what they’re about. Your local newspaper may also have candidate questionnaires which you can read through and see who best fits your values.
I know we’re all incredibly busy, but what’s better than casting your ballot in a race where you can directly see your impact? It takes less than an hour of research to be able to tell your local legislator that you voted in their race and they will remember you better for it.
Every vote counts. From the top of the ticket to the bottom, voting is a way to share your priorities with the world. It’s one thing to say, but another to feel. I feel my vote by voting “down ballot,” which helps me feel connected to the people whose names are in front of me in the polling booth. And when DC feels a little out of touch, I turn my thoughts to all the ways I can make change in my community with the folks I’ve helped elect.
Help us Queer the Vote at all levels of government, and remember to vote “down ballot.”