Today I’m not going to try to convince you to vote for me. I’ll try to convince you to vote at all. There are important issues at stake, and this might be the last chance you have a real election for a long time.
There are a lot of problems with the system we use to elect officials, but it’s the system we have and so we need to know how to work with it. Here are some things to consider about a state house seat like this one:
Many of the most important decisions made in government happen under the gold dome. Laws. Taxes. Spending. Education. Criminal justice. Regulations. Policing. Rules governing the governor, cities, counties, guardsmen, executive agencies, and more. Redistricting (gerrymandering).
In fact, this office is the primary one that controls how we vote. You’re voting for who controls how you may vote.
Primaries heavily favor incumbents.
There a couple reasons for this.
Voters in a particular primary are disproportionately people who would like that party to succeed. And they may have something else going on in their lives, so their research into the candidates may not be perfectly thorough. So if one candidate has “incumbent” by their name on the ballot, one may reasonably guess that candidate has a history of winning, and so perhaps they have a better chance of doing so again.
Elected officials tend to have sway within their own parties. Challenging one in a primary is not usually a great way to make friends, and so the highest-profile candidates with best political machines tend not to do it. In fact, we haven’t seen a primary challenge for this seat since 2012.
Independents and opposition-party candidates are unlikely to be able to run in a regular election, and are handicapped if they do.
There are two ways to run in the general:
- Get nominated by a party with special legal privileges (Rep/Dem)
- Collect thousands of signatures of people who are registered to vote in the district with the same information (address, signature, etc.) when they sign and also when it’s turned in… and have enough of those signatures not thrown out by a government official who works for another party.
The usual advice is buy the list of registered voters from the state and go to their houses. If they sign with information matching the registration info you bought, there’s a good chance it’ll still match at the end, but if you simply found people in a public place they’ll likely misremember which district they’re in, etc. Oh, and by the way, collect twice the required number of signatures, because no matter what you do many will be thrown out.
You can achieve this goal if you’re rich (you can pay signature gatherers) or famous (can convince hundreds of people from outside the district to knock on doors for you).
Even if you do achieve the goal, though, you spent more dollars and/or volunteer hours on collecting signatures than your opponent spent on their campaign. This is what I mean by being handicapped.
Democrats rarely bother running in this district.
I must confess that I haven’t memorized all the results of all elections from history. The records I’m working from get tricky prior to 2010, so I can’t tell you when was the last time a Democrat challenged for the state house seat for this area. I can tell you it hasn’t happened since at least 2008.
For context, the district’s largest age group is 18-24, the vast majority of whom were legally too young to vote last time they would’ve been allowed to choose a non-Republican.
Write-ins don’t really count.
That is, unless the candidate registered as a write-in candidate before the deadline. The vote will be counted, but the candidate isn’t allowed to win.
Few people really consider voting write-in except as a throwaway protest vote. Very few people bother to check whether they have any qualified write-in options available they should consider. Even fewer vote for a qualified write-in candidate. Thus, most view write-in candidacies as futile, and thus potential write-in candidates generally don’t bother with the process.
An “unopposed” election isn’t.
It isn’t an election at all. The word “elect” means “to decide”. There’s no decision happening when the outcome is guaranteed before any voter shows up.
It is a formality. A coronation.
Special elections are different
Opposition candidates like myself aren’t required to collect signatures for a special. We also have a Democrat running – you may want to ask her why specials are different for Democrats. We also have multiple Republicans to choose from, since there is no incumbent and no primary to deal with. These are all positive factors that make this election far more powerful than the usual, throttled “elections”.
There is a negative difference, though. Hardly any voters shows up for a special, making it not particularly representative.
Maybe you can’t fix this personally. You, personally, probably can’t make everyone get out and vote on February 13th. But you can vote. You can make sure you’re among the few who have their voice heard.
Remember, it may very well be the last time you get a chance.