Everybody who votes wants to pick the president. But what about the rest of the ballot? Down-ballot or down-ticket races are those below the presidential race on the ballot. All the way down to dog-catcher—or dog? Maybe. Cormorant, Minnesota, elected a Great Pyrenees dog named Duke as mayor for four consecutive terms, beginning in 2014.
Mayor of Cormorant is a ceremonial office, but that’s not true of most down-ballot races. The U.S. system of government divides power between the federal government and the states. Cities, counties, school boards, park boards, and more all share some kind of legal power. Every voter has a voice in electing these officials.
In many ways, down-ballot races have a larger impact on daily life than the presidential election. For example, the biggest decisions about your child or your grandchild’s education are made by the school board. The school board has more power over schools than the president, governor, or anyone else.
Sample ballots list all of the candidates and questions on your ballot. You can find your sample ballot by going here.
What is down-ballot this year?
Every seat in the Minnesota State Legislature is on the ballot this year. Every voter can cast a vote for both a Minnesota State Senator and a Minnesota State Representative. These elections are especially important because the legislators who are elected this year will draw the lines for redistricting based on the 2020 constitution. They will determine legislative and Congressional districts for the next 10 years.
While many local races are scheduled for non-presidential election years, some are on the ballot this year. The St. Paul school board has a special election to fill the seat left empty by Marny Xiong’s tragic death of COVID-19 this year. Minneapolis also has one school board position on the ballot. Minneapolis also has two charter questions on the ballot. To find out your local races, go to mnvotes.org and find your sample ballot.
In Minnesota, state judges serve for set terms. This year, one Minnesota Supreme Court Justice and four state appeals court judges are on the ballot. So are many county judges, who are the trial court judges. Judicial positions are non-partisan. Candidates and judges have no political party listed.
This year, all U.S. House seats and one-third of U.S. Senate seats are up for election. Minnesotans will vote on all eight Congressional representatives and on the seat held by U.S. Senator Tina Smith.
Contrary to the opinion of the incumbent, the U.S. president cannot rule by executive order. Congress, not the president, makes laws. That makes votes for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives hugely important.
How to find information about the candidates
One way to find information is to go to the candidates’ websites. That will give you the candidate and their friends and allies saying how great they are.
Another way is to look at independent sources of information, such as the League of Women Voters or other organizations that send out candidate questionnaires. That can be informative and time-consuming. Also, candidates are not going to reveal anything negative about themselves in their answers.
National news media spend most of their space and time on the top of the ticket. They also do more horse race reporting rather than issue analysis. They focus on polls and who is likely to win. They also rarely cover down-ballot races.
One of the best ways to find out about down-ballot races is from someone who spends a lot of time and effort on local politics. That might be a neighbor, a family member, a local news source, or a political activist with a blog.
My personal favorite is Naomi Kritzer, a local science fiction writer and blogger. Every election, she spends hours researching candidates in Minneapolis and St. Paul. She writes about each race on her blog at naomikritzer.com. She also links out to questionnaires, candidate websites, and other sources. Her style is informal, but her information is solid and well-sourced.
Once again—to find out who will be on your ballot, go to mnvotes.org and click on the link for a sample ballot. Then you can gather information and make an informed decision about all the races on your ballot.
For more info, visit mnvotes.org.
Mary Turck is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. She has published extensively as a journalist and has edited the Connection to the Americas and of the TC Daily Planet. Her website, maryturck.com, includes her literary and political blogs.