To date, most of the focus on the 2020 election season has been on the presidential race. Undoubtedly, Americans will clash on whether to give President Trump another four years in the White House or hand the keys to the Democratic nominee. At its heart, it will be an argument about American values and which direction the country should head in. However, the election for your local state legislator, whoever that may be, is just as important as that for the Presidency.
Though the federal government takes up most of the country’s attention, thousands of policies are actually made at the local level of government. As Congress and the President have become increasingly deadlocked in recent years, there have been “fewer major national policy initiatives, and the state level has recently picked up some of the slack.” In fact, state legislatures have been very active despite Congress’s slow down, with 2015 data finding that state governments pass, on average, six times more laws than Congress. This isn’t a perfect comparison; some bills Congress passes are behemoths that bundle a hundred unrelated topics together, while others are ceremonial bills that simply rename a post office, but it is enough for us to deduce that state governments are highly active.
Importantly, most state legislatures also hold another, more significant power — drawing the congressional districts for the next decade. With this, they have the ability to effectively give an advantage to one party or another. In 2010, Republicans gained over 680 legislative seats throughout the country with the “Tea Party wave,” resulting in federal and state district lines drawn against Democrats’ interests for 10 years. Just how effective was this gerrymandering? In 2012, Wisconsin Democrats didn’t even win 40% of the seats in the State House, in spite of winning an absolute majority of the popular vote. With their disproportionate majority, Republicans were able to pass a flurry of ultra-conservative bills that crippled labor unions, disregarded the will of the voters, and forced an election in the middle of a pandemic earlier this week. State elections have deep and lasting impacts.
Why do these elections matter even more this year? Well, for one, redistricting will be happening in 2021 with the results of this year’s census. However, the second reason why they matter more than usual is the sheer number of legislative seats up for election in 2020; 86 of the nation’s 99 legislative chambers are up for grabs. Ballotpedia classifies 21 of these as battleground chambers. Important states such as California, Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, and Minnesota will be going to the polls. Some of these are crucial swing states wherein the population is equally divided politically, and these elections could determine if the states have fair legislative maps or gerrymandered, vote-stifling districts for the next decade.
In the coming months, the media and the public will likely focus on the high-profile duel for the White House and whether or not Trump earns himself another four-year term. Elections at the state level should be weighted equally with this race. Both will carry profound effects for the people of the country, set America’s direction for years to come, and affect the integrity of our future elections. So when you’re filling out your ballot this year, make sure to vote all the way down the ticket, from President to Congress to state legislator to mayor—the results may hit close to home.
Sam Husemann is a junior in high school and enjoys writing political opinion pieces. He also loves studying politics and American government, from Congress to his local city hall. When he’s not writing, he is usually reading, thinking, or cooking. You can find him on Instagram @husemannsam.