While nearly everyone has some type of opinion toward the national election, many students and adults alike have no idea what legislation will be on their down ballot this coming Tuesday.
The down ballot encompasses everything that’s not the presidential candidates, from local and state legislators to ballot questions.
Although the presidential election receives extensive media coverage, University of Rhode Island political science professors Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz and Danielle Dirocco agree that down ballot election, votes at the local town and state level, are much more important.
“To be honest, it’s the down ballot elections that actually, one, effect you more directly, and two, […] this is your opportunity to actually have a say,” Pearson-Merkowitz said.
The president may have significant long-term effects, but Pearson-Merkowitz dismisses the idea that the presidential vote is the most important vote you can cast as absurd. Campaign promises made by both presidential candidates are unrealistic, according to Pearson-Merkowitz, due to the extremely limited powers of the executive office.
“The most important votes you can take are at your local level where your property taxes are being determined, what spending is being determined, and really, truly where policy meets the road,” Pearson-Merkowitz said.
Democracy suffers when voters are not well informed, and the reality is that most people know next to nothing about down ballot election legislation – even political science majors themselves. To combat against students being uninformed, Dirocco has lead in-class exercises for students in her Introduction to American Politics that require them find their polling locations’ sample ballots and request an absentee ballot if need be. Pearson-Merkowitz recently polled her students on the down ballot legislation and discovered most of her students, who are political science majors, had never heard of the policies a week out from the election.
Dirocco and Pearson-Merkowitz agree that going into the polls informed, especially at the local level where your vote can go a long way, is essential.
“Do your homework,” Dirocco said. “All you need to do is Google their names and find out what they feel about something you care about. Pick a topic or three that really matter to you, and see if they have a position on them, especially congressional races and state level legislators.”
The further down the election ballot you go, Dirocco said there is typically less and less information out there, but that doesn’t mean voters have to make an ill-informed decision. Instead, you can attend town council or school committee meetings, or reach out to them through social media. Dirocco stressed that they’ll most likely respond to voters’ questions and concerns.
Many students say they’re not informed about the election because they’re too busy with their personal lives to look into the election details. This is a sentiment that sophomore Nikia Dasilva-Lopes said she falls in line with.
“It’s sad, because I probably should look it up,” Dasilva-Lopes said. “I’m a political science major and I probably should know. “
This Tuesday will be Dasilva-Lopes’ first time voting in an election, so doing her research in order to make an informed decision before stepping into the polling booth is something she said is important to her.
Other students, given their dissatisfaction with both candidates, have said they plan to abstain from voting altogether. In Dirocco’s opinion, however, voting is the least you can do for your country. Unsurprisingly, Pearson-Merkowitz shares a very similar view.
“If you don’t utilize your ability to vote on the real places that directly impact you, you can’t really complain then that the government isn’t doing what you want, “ Pearson-Merkowitz said.