Former president Calvin Coolidge once noted that if Americans first thought of the federal government when they think of the term “government,” that it would harm the fabric of our Republic. Yet, the first thought of most citizens is the federal government when they think of elections or government in general. This too is revealed in the ballot box.
Colin Campbell of the News & Observer noted that in the 2016 primary election, 500,000 North Carolinians skipped at least some down ballot races. A 10 percent decline in voter participation is not uncommon for down ballot races. Traditionally, this has been much less common in the general election because of straight party ticket voting. However, since 2014, straight-ticket voting is no longer an option here in North Carolina. A 2016 Christian Science Monitor article noted that “more than 40 percent of voters voted straight-ticket in 2010 and nearly 58 percent followed suit in 2012.”
Even if one argues that the separation of powers between the federal government and states is increasingly compromised in a post New Deal America, most citizens are still more impacted by the government closest to them – which is local and state.
Take the law and order issue we hear so much about in campaigns and the news cycle. Many voters who are in favor of cracking down on rioting, looting and violence so prevalent in many urban areas might be most motivated to vote for President Donald Trump. On the other hand, voters who believe that systemic racism is involved with policing in America may be more likely to vote for Joe Biden. Yet, on criminal justice and the rule of law, offices like state attorney general, the State Supreme Court, and a myriad of local races are certain to have a greater impact on North Carolinians than the results of the presidential election.
For conservatives, the State Supreme Court is arguably the important race on the ballot. Democrats currently control the North Carolina Supreme Court with a 6-to-1 supermajority. Gov. Roy Cooper and other Democrats have deftly sidestepped the legislature time and time again, using the courts in North Carolina to advance much of their agenda. Of course, one example is how the judiciary was utilized to halt the implementation of a constitutional voter I.D. amendment even though it was passed by the legislature and through a statewide vote in 2018. In 2020, Republican Paul Newby faces off against Cheri Beasley in a race for chief justice of the court while two other important supreme court races are on the ballot as well.
Some experts believe mail-in-voting reduces ballot roll-off because it gives the voter more time to study and peruse the ballot. If true, this could disadvantage conservative voters in the state given that the vast majority of them are expected to vote in person on Election Day.
Headed into the 2020 election, Civitas Polling shows several extremely close races outside of just the presidential race. Given a margin of error under 4 percent, the matchups for lieutenant governor, superintendent of public instruction, and state treasurer are just some of the races that are currently tied. Other positions on the ballot all could easily be as close in a divided state that reflects many of the divisions in our nation so well. In many localities, school board races may be more important than ever given the prolonged shutdown of in-person instruction due to the coronavirus.
Voters that neglect to complete their ballot diminish their ability to impact the state and locality they call home. Thankfully, there are now more resources than ever with websites like BallotReady or Ballotpedia to prepare voters to be educated on their entire ballot. An abundance of civically engaged and educated North Carolinians will only be a boon for our state and the American republic.
The article originally appeared in The Daily Reflector.