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Down-Ballot Races for Dummies

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At this point you probably know who you’re voting for in the presidential election, and more than likely you're eager for the whole charade to be over. But when you get to the polls Nov. 8, don't forget about the other elections you have a right, and civic responsibility, to vote in.

Down-ballot races are elections for senators, congressman and other public officials all the way down to the local government in your community, and are just as important as the big name candidates on the ballot.

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Down-ballot races are crucial in deciding how our national and state judiciary systems function, especially this year. Here's why:

  1. The Democrats have a chance to win the Senate. Republicans have 24 seats up for reelection (Dems only have 10), and the Dems need 4-5 of those to become the majority. The chances of the Republicans losing their majority is very high, with FiveThirtyEight last predicting a 71% chance of a switch in control, but only if Democratic supporters vote.
  2. The death of Justice Scalia in February. A SCOTUS replacement is decided by the Senate; with a majority, Democrats will be able to elect Obama’s nominee Judge Merrick Garland, whom Republicans have been blocking for nearly eight months.
  3. It’s a presidential election year, which means more people will be voting in these elections than other years (there's typically a 15-20% higher turnout) - since you’ll already be at the polls it’s important to know your candidate!

senate chartThe current Senate election chart, via FiveThirtyEight

Here are the seven Democratic Senate nominees running against incumbent Republicans, who have a real shot of winning their states:

Tammy Duckworth (D)- running in IL; This army veteran (and Purple Heart recipient after she was gunned down in Iraq, causing her to lose both her legs) has been serving in the House of Representatives since 2012. Her campaign primarily focuses on advocating for small businesses, investing in infrastructure, improving the lives of our Veterans and cutting government waste and fraud. Duckworth is running against incumbent Mark Kirk (R).

Evan Bayh (D)- running in IN; This former governor and U.S. senator is looking to preserve Medicare for our elderly and vulnerable populations, strengthen our defenses abroad and reign in government spending. Bayh is running against Todd Young (R), creator of the Fairness for American Families Act, which was intended to fight Obamacare.

Jason Kander (D)- running in MI; Kander is an army vet who served as Missouri's secretary of state, and the national co-chair for Hillary Clinton. He is running against Roy Blunt (R). During his time in the Senate Blunt proposed a block on birth control coverage and has voted against expanding background checks for guns, raising minimum wage, and bills created to combat global warming.

Deborah Ross (D)- running in NC; After serving in North Carolina’s State House from 2003-2013, Ross is running for the Senate. Since announcing her run she has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood, EMILY's list, and Democracy for America. Ross is running against Richard Burr (R) who wants to defund Planned Parenthood and ban late-term abortion. Burr also distanced himself from House Bill 2 (the bill that blocks transgender people from using the bathrooms they’re comfortable with) as North Carolina's senator, but believes in what it promotes.

Maggie Hassan (D)- running in NH; New Hampshire has elected Hassan to their State Senate three times, and made her their 81st Governor. She is currently running against Kelly Ayotte (R), an extremely conservative incumbent, who still endorses Donald Trump’s run for presidency.

Katie McGinty (D)- running in PA; McGinty was previously the environmental aid/advisor to Al Gore and Bill Clinton, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (the first woman to do so) and Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection. She (obviously) strongly supports the protection of the environment and our natural resources. The incumbent, Pat Toomey (R), is the exact opposite of McGinty. Toomey supported forest thinning legislature and oil drilling in national wildlife refugees and previously voted against the Clean Power Plan.

Russ Feingold (D)- running in WI; Feingold is not the incumbent, but he did serve in the U.S. Senate for Wisconsin from 1993 to 2011. Feingold is Running against Ron Johnson (R). In his time in the Senate, Johnson cosponsored S.570 which would prohibit the Department of Justice from tracking purchases of multiple rifles/shotguns.

vote gifvia Giphy

These candidates specifically give the Democratic party a real shot at winning back the Senate that they lost two years ago; which is crucial if (hopefully) we elect a Democratic president, as the Senate decides what national issues are discussed and dealt with.

Are you perhaps a Bernie-bro still not sold on Hillary? (Really? This far into the election? Alright). Well, a Democratic Senate could make Bernie Sanders the Chairperson of the Senate Budget Committee. (He could also end up chairing the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee). Either way, he's going to end up a pretty powerful guy with a real opportunity to push the platform he created during his presidential run — IF HILLARY WINS!

We're also likely to see Elizabeth Warren take on a higher position of power if things unfold in the Democratic party's favor.

In terms of the House of Representatives, it's unlikely the Democrats will win the majority (they would need to obtain more than 30 seats), but they do have an opportunity to raise their numbers. And just because a nominee is not likely to tip a party into the majority, or even if you don't see your state listed in the "important Senate elections," doesn't mean you shouldn't vote for the candidate you believe in.

The most important thing you do before next week is get informed. Find out what candidates are running for what elections in your area and study up; state and local governments directly affect education policy, taxes, and things like women's health and reproductive rights. You can look up candidates by state, or even by their political issues; find candidates who were endorsed by Planned Parenthood or are pro-choice, here

You can also make donations to important people running that you can’t necessarily vote for. ActBlue has a number of fundraisers where you can donate money to Democracy for America, the Democratic Governor's Association etc. before Nov. 8.

Top photo via Wikimedia Commons

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