As 2019 comes to a close all eyes and hype are on the 2020 federal elections and less on state and local elections.


First published in November 2019.


As 2019 comes to a close all eyes and hype are on the 2020 federal elections and less on state and local elections. Republicans are worried that they might lose both the Senate and the White House, Democrats are worried over who can best beat President Trump. But as the end of 2019 approaches, voters would be wise to ask themselves which is more important – federal elections or state and local elections?

The main reason why the voter base of both Republicans and Democrats are focused on the 2020 federal elections is the composition of the Supreme Court. Republicans want a solid majority conservative court to overturn Roe v Wade and preserve Citizens United v FEC, Democrats want a solid liberal majority court to preserve Roe v Wade and overturn Citizens United v FEC.

Because Democratic and Republican voter bases are so focused on how federal elections affect Roe v Wade and Citizens United v FEC, they both overlook how state and local elections can also impact both of these game-changing issues. In the case of Roe v Wade, if a conservative court overturns it, Democrats need to remember that state legislatures would still be free to pass laws to allow abortions within their respective states. In the case of Citizens United v FEC, if a liberal court overturns it, Republicans need to remember that a constitutional amendment restoring it can be added without the Congress and Senate by two-thirds of America’s state legislatures voting to amend the U.S. Constitution.

Roe v Wade and Citizens United v FEC are game-changing issues but they are not the game-changing issues that have a direct impact on the daily lives of Americans. Game-changers like what citizens can vote, how election districts are drawn, access to healthcare, the rule and enforcement of the law, and the quality of education available directly impact the everyday life of all Americans.

None of these everyday life game-changers are the direct responsibility of any Congressperson, Senator or the President. They are the direct responsibility of people elected in state and local elections. State and local elections affect all five of these game changing issues in the following way:

Who Votes

Our U.S. Constitution gives the right to determine the qualifications for an American citizen to vote to the American state that the citizen is a resident of. Each one of the 50 states has its own list of qualifications that a citizen must meet, these qualifications are decided by its state legislature and the members of the state legislature who decide are determined by state and local elections. In terms of who stays on voter registration rolls and who is removed: 24 states have an elected secretary of state as the chief election official, 2 states have an elected lieutenant governor as the chief election official, 3 states have a chief election official selected by the legislature, 5 states have a chief election official appointed by the governor, 9 states have a board or a commission that oversees elections (appointments to these commissions are usually made by the governor, and confirmed by the state’s senate), and 7 states use a combination of a chief election official and a board or commission.

Whether directly or indirectly state and local elections determine the people who make the important decision of who gets to vote and who does not.

Election Districts

How election districts are drawn is important because it affects who is politically represented in federal, state and local governments. How many Democrats, Republicans or Independents serve in the U.S. Senate, Congress, state legislatures, county legislative bodies, city councils, and local school boards are all determined by how their respective election districts are designed. Each state draws the election districts for their 2 legislative bodies and the congressional districts within the state. Each county, city and school board draws their own election districts. Unfortunately, both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of drawing election districts that favor their political party and disadvantage the opposing political party, a practice known as gerrymandering.

This week a North Carolina state court threw out the state’s map of congressional districts that were drawn by North Carolina’s Republican-controlled state legislature, saying “beyond a reasonable doubt” that it was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander favoring Republicans. Fortunately, a growing number of states are removing partisan politicians from drawing election districts and shifting the task to independent or bipartisan commissions.

Those states were only able to stop the partisan gerrymandering through referendums held during their state and local elections.

Healthcare Access

Rural hospitals across America are closing meaning citizens living in those areas are denied healthcare. 100 have closed since 2010 and 600-plus rural hospitals are at risk of closing. All these hospital closings are located in 14 states that have 2 things in common. They all have Republican Governors with Republican-controlled state legislatures, and they all refused to expand Medicaid eligibility to more of their low-income residents under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. A 2018 study found that the rate of closures of rural hospitals increased significantly in the 14 states that did not expand Medicaid eligibility, the same study found that rural hospital closure rates decreased in the states that did expand Medicaid eligibility.

Those governors and state legislators who decided to deny their rural citizens access to healthcare weren’t elected in federal elections, they were elected in state and local elections.

Rule of Law

America’s 50 state courts hear 95% of all the court cases filed in the United States. Each state’s Supreme Court has the final word on interpreting state law and renders decisions that set the course for the lower state court judges. State Supreme Court decisions affect everything from abortion laws, election laws, reversing or upholding multi-million dollar lawsuits, racial, gender, and religious discrimination lawsuits and funding for education.

Both State Court Judges and State Supreme Court Justices are elected in state and local elections in most states, and those that are not are appointed by a state and locally elected governor.

Over the last few years, there has been an increase in the number of police shooting and killing of American black males, notably Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio and Botham Jean in Dallas, Texas. In both cases, local citizens felt justice was either denied or justice was incomplete. In the case of Tamir Rice County Prosecutor Tim McGinty decided not to indict either of the 2 policemen involved with the murder of Rice on any charges, so at the next state and local election, voters chose not to reelect him as their prosecutor. In the case of Botham Jean a jury did find the policewoman who killed him guilty of 1st degree murder, but the Judge who could have sentenced her up to life in prison instead gave her a hug, a bible, and a 10 year sentence with the ability to walk free in 5 years with good behavior. The citizens who feel justice was not complete will have an opportunity during the next state and local elections to remove that Judge from the bench.

Quality of Education

The most debated question when it comes to providing a community’s children and teenagers a quality education is traditional public school versus innovative charter schools. How many schools a community will have, which schools will be closed and converted to a charter school, how many pupils per classroom or who will be chosen as the superintendent to lead the school system are all determined by the community’s school board.

Who serves on the community’s school board is determined by state and local elections not federal elections.

While whose running for the White House, Senate or Congress grabs the headline attention and vote turn-out numbers are higher in the year of a presidential election, it’s the state and local elections that are far more important for American citizens to vote in. Because it’s the state and local elections that are the true game-changers that directly impact American everyday life!🔷



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[This piece was originally published on Isaac Newton Farris Jr.’s blog and re-published in PMP Magazine on 4 November 2019, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

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THE AUTHOR

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Nephew of Martin Luther King Jr, he serves as Senior Fellow at King Center. Growing up in one of the most socially & politically active families has given him a unique perspective on current events.

Atlanta, GA, USA. Articles in PMP Magazine Website