In case you haven’t noticed: this year’s presidential election is a pretty big deal. Americans all over the nation are deliberating about whether they intend to vote for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or the third-party candidate of their choice.
But believe it or not, there are other things you’ll be asked to vote for on November 8. As important as the presidential election is, we also have a legislative branch that presides over the political sphere in Washington—and a whole host of state issues that also often show up on that ballot.
If you aren’t sure what issues you’ll be asked to vote on, Google “what’s on the ballot in my state.” Once you input your ZIP code, you’ll get a list. In addition, you can visit OntheIssues.org to get a good overview of federal and state candidates’ stances.
In case you have not yet talked to someone about political issues outside the executive, here are a few highlights.
1. Your Vote Could Have a Huge Impact on the Senate
Currently, Republicans hold the majority in both the House and the Senate. But there’s a chance Democrats could take back the Senate this fall: they only have 10 seats open this election, while Republicans have to defend 24 seats.
In Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio’s decision to run for president may seriously jeopardize his ability to take back his seat. Not to mention the fact that Rubio “entered the race with the baggage of his own ambivalence toward the job,” in the words of Wall Street Journal reporter Arian Campo-Flores. “He missed numerous votes during his White House run, justifying it by saying the Senate had limited ability to set the nation’s agenda.”
But according to The Hill, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson “faces the most uphill climb of any GOP Senate incumbent seeking reelection.” In Illinois, Sen. Mark Kirk faces a similarly difficult battle—like Johnson, Kirk “represents a solidly blue state and won election in a midterm year.” In addition, he’s being challenged by two-term Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who’s an Iraq War veteran and former assistant secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department.
In Arizona, Sen. John McCain—despite his incumbent status—may face a difficult fight against Democratic nominee Ann Kirkpatrick. “The rise of Donald Trump and his anti-immigration views has served to tighten the race in Arizona, where Hispanics make up about 30% of the population and 22% of the state’s eligible voters,” notes the Wall Street Journal.
The Wall Street Journal predicts similar close battles in Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.
It’s true that presidents nominate Supreme Court justices. But the Senate confirms them. So this November 8 election is a big deal.
2. Maine Could Make Drastic Changes to Voting Procedures
In what Foreign Policy magazine called “the second most important vote on November 8,” Maine will ask voters to adopt ranked-choice voting. Larry Diamond explains how it works:
In RCV, voters select not just one candidate, but a list of candidates in order of preference. If no candidate gets a majority of first-preference votes when tabulating the results, the least popular candidate is eliminated and the second-preference votes of his or her supporters are redistributed to the other candidates. The process continues until someone gets a majority.
What would this do, practically? Among other things, it eliminates the perception that voting third-party is a waste. “Under RCV, voters who don’t like the established party choices can vote their conscience with a first preference, and rank their ‘less bad’ option second,” writes Diamond. “As a result, more independents — who tend to shy away from running because they don’t want to be spoilers — will come forward and present their case.”
3. Oklahoma Could Get Rid of the Blaine Amendment
Oklahoma voters will be asked whether they would like to repeal Article II, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution, known as the “Blaine Amendment.” The amendment’s original text says the following:
No State shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefor, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect; nor shall any money so raised or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations.
“It was not widely appreciated until recently that Blaine Amendments were passed as a direct result of the nativist, anti-Catholic bigotry that was a recurring theme in American politics during the 19th and early 20th centuries,” writes the Becket Fund, a group currently fighting Blaine Amendments in several states. Sen. Rob Standridge, author of Oklahoma’s resolution, said many Oklahomans “have expressed dismay such a discriminatory provision was still in our constitution. This measure will give the final say to the citizens of our state.”
4. Californians and Coloradans: Take Note of Health-Care Proposals
Meanwhile, Colorado’s Amendment 69 is proposing a new system called ColoradoCare, “a healthcare payment system designed to finance universal health care for Colorado residents.” This would create the nation’s first single-payer health-care system. Surprise: it’s been endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders. The healthcare plan would be funded (“in part”) by a new 10 percent payroll tax and a 10 percent “nonpayroll income” tax.
California has a lot of initiatives on the ballot: everything from banning plastic grocery bags to requiring the use of condoms in pornographic films (not joking). But one of their less bizarre items is Proposition 61. According to BallotPedia, the proposition would cap prescription drug prices at “the lowest price paid for the same drug by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, except as may be required by federal law.” This ballot measure has “the most money spent on it ever in California’s history, with the combined amount of money raised by the support and opposition campaigns totaling to over $101.4 million as of October 2.”
5. Gun Control Is an Issue This Election
There are firearms measures on the ballot in four states: California, Maine, Nevada, and Washington. California is proposing an outright ban on the possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines. Maine and Nevada are proposing background checks on gun sales or purchases. And Washington Initiative 1491 would authorize courts “to issue extreme risk protection orders to remove an individual from access to firearms.”
6. Don’t Ignore Minimum Wage Increases
Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington all have proposals to increase the minimum wage—to $10, $12, $12, and $13.50, respectively. Meanwhile, South Dakota has a proposal for a decrease in the youth minimum wage, from $8.50 to $7.50.
7. And Then There’s Marijuana Legalization
There are marijuana legalization measures in several states—nine, to be exact. Some of these (in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota) call for the authorization of medical marijuana. Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada have proposals for its outright legalization.
And That’s Not All
Don’t take this as an authoritative list of issues to care about. It’s just a glimpse at the issues we should be aware of this fall.
Regardless of where you live, your vote counts. If you don’t want to vote for Clinton or Trump, don’t take that as an excuse to stay home on November 8. There are still important issues to be considered—and the U.S. Constitution put power in the hands of “we the people,” which means you.