Oh, OK. You’re not too concerned about the upcoming midterm elections on Nov. 4. You don’t mind sitting this cycle out because you’ve convinced yourself that presidential elections are what matters the most.
In addition to a slate of U.S. Senate races that could determine which party controls Congress for the next two years, there are dozens of statewide positions that voters will be able to cast a ballot for on Tuesday, and the individuals who are elected to those posts have the power to affect your life, at times more directly than the president or Congress. Here are a few examples of how state politics have brought about significant changes in people’s lives. It’s why everyone ought to take an interest in the candidates who may be filling these very important positions.
1. Secretaries of state—lest we forget Florida’s recount in 2000.
When the entire nation was utterly confused about who won the most electoral votes in Florida during the 2000 presidential election—Al Gore or George W. Bush—it was Katherine Harris, Florida’s secretary of state, who presided over the state’s recount. Scorned Democratic operatives will tell you that Harris purposely stopped the recount when Bush was ahead, knowing that the courts wouldn’t give the impacted districts the green light to keep counting ballots—a scenario that might have put Gore back on top. Political observers credit Harris for Bush’s last-minute victory in the Sunshine State and his emergence as the 43rd president of the United States. What if all of the votes were counted and Gore had become president?
2. Governors—because Missouri’s Gov. Jay Nixon thought to appoint a leader that could empathize with the protesters in Ferguson.
Maybe you don’t always see how the governor of your state has an effect on day-to-day issues that will affect their constituents’ lives. But tell that to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon out in Missouri, who put Capt. Ronald Johnson in charge of Ferguson, Mo.’s, security operations after Michael Brown was fatally shot by police Officer Darren Wilson. Nixon’s appointment of Johnson was widely seen as a gesture that temporarily calmed the tension between the city’s law enforcement and the predominantly African-American community.
3. State legislators—because it was a California state senator who fought racial discrimination in the state’s criminal-justice system.
Thanks to legislation introduced by state Sen. Holly Mitchell, California now requires that both white and black drug offenders, convicted of the same crimes, be sentenced to the same amount of prison time. It’s a big step toward correcting the racial bias that exists in the criminal-justice system
4. Every single member of the U.S. House of Representatives and about one-third of the U.S. Senate—because they control the nation’s purse strings.
This is pretty straightforward. As chief executive, President Barack Obama can’t spend money until Congress allocates it. Remember that your vote could determine whether your state or district sends a Democrat or a Republican to Congress.
5. Comptrollers—because let’s hope they’re nothing like Jim Coughlan.
Remember when Coughlan, comptroller of New York’s Dutchess County, said, “Keep your stinking paws off my kid, you damned dirty ape” to MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris-Perry when she essentially described how it takes a village to raise a child?
Well, now he’s running for the New York state Senate. It matters.
6. Ballot measures—because Prop 8 once stopped same-sex marriages in California.
One of the most notorious ballot measures in recent years was California’s Proposition 8, back in 2008, that allowed voters to decide if same-sex couples could marry. A little more than half of the state’s voters that year decided that they didn’t want same-sex marriages to be legal. But in 2012, a federal appeals panel in San Francisco found that ban unconstitutional, and when its supporters tried to appeal that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, it got dismissed again. Yep, the highest court in the land had the final say on an issue that was decided by proposition located toward the end of a ballot.
So when you head to the polls Tuesday, pay close attention to all the measures and down-ballot races. They matter.
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features expert advice for TV and film’s most complex characters. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.