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The whole ballot

The Observer Editorial Board | Friday, November 2, 2012

At this point, you might be sick of hearing about the election. Whether you’re trying to watch television, scroll through your Twitter feed or even just listen to some music on Pandora, the presidential election seems to be dominating every conversation as the contest hits fever pitch less than a week before Election Day.
While the contest for the Oval Office draws nearly every headline, it’s only a part of why Tuesday is important. If there’s anything presidential history has taught us, it’s that the President’s agenda only goes so far – for Congress shapes what the White House can and cannot do. And if you’ve only been following the top item on the ballot, you’re missing out on what’s truly important.
This election goes far beyond Washington. Races for state legislatures, governorships, judicial positions, ballot issues and even county sheriffs all matter to the way you live your daily life. Think about it: Schools, roads, police and almost all of the other ways we encounter government on a daily basis depend more on the state and local officials we elect than how the President deals with the Departments of Education, Transportation and Homeland Security.
We often hear from our classmates that voting simply doesn’t matter. Perhaps you might be from a solid red state or a consistently blue one, and because the outcome of your state’s electoral votes won’t be a surprise, you might think your vote doesn’t matter out of the millions that will be cast. No matter how your vote plays into the presidential election, that sentiment is simply not true on state and local levels. In state elections, turnout is more often measured in the thousands; in local ones, it’s often in the hundreds. Your vote absolutely matters in those races – and it matters in the day-to-day issues that affect you most.
Across the country, 176 referendums in 38 states – including several on medical marijuana, tax policy and health care – are up for vote. Gay marriage is on the ballot in four different states this year. The U.S. Senate majority could be overturned if a few undecided states swing red. The governor you put in office is responsible for appointing your state’s judges and approving your state’s budget. States all around the country have the chance to break new ground on issues that matter – just because not all of them came up in the three televised presidential debate doesn’t mean they’re not valuable issues. Your voice matters here too. The principle is the same as when you get involved and make your mark on campus; even the smallest contribution can be enough to tip the scales one way or another at home. Treat your voice in your family’s community as respectfully and carefully as you do here.
It’s not easy, and we understand that. You’re busy – there are a thousand other things on your mind that seem more pressing and more urgent than spending an hour researching candidates to decide on a vote. You might even have trouble finding good information from people other than your parents and neighbors. But it’s worth the effort. Go to your local newspaper’s election guide, or perhaps a site like RealClearPolitics. Go straight to the candidates’ websites themselves. Just as your professors tell you not to cite Wikipedia in your papers, due diligence is necessary in choosing a candidate. But which candidate takes office following Election Day is not the only issue at stake.
We know it’s exhausting, and we know it’s taking over your life. But don’t miss the rest of the ballot just because you’re sick of the presidential horse race. There’s more to Election Day than you might think, and your vote means more than you might think, too.