This past week we had an election in Wisconsin. Bernie Sanders won, Ted Cruz won, and Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s handpicked Supreme Court justice won. But this post really isn’t about that: It’s about what I noticed on my two-sided ballot in Madison’s Ward 34.
We make a lot of noise about getting out the vote here on Daily Kos. That we need to vote to make change happen, and that we want to elect more and better Democrats. We struggle with low turnout. Well, low Democratic turnout in the latest Wisconsin election (and on the other side of the coin, strong Republican turnout) is the main reason my state has yet another corporate shill as a Supreme Court justice. Turnout and getting out the vote matters. But there is something else that matters too, and the entire idea of representative democracy is in peril because of this one thing.
The text of my ballot is below. Can you see that is wrong with it (other than the Republican Clown CarTM on the top of the ballot)?
CITY OF MADISON : 34
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES - Republican
Donald J. Trump
John R. Kasich
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES - Democrat
JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT JoAnne F. Kloppenburg
Rebecca G. Bradley
COURT OF APPEALS JUDGE DISTRICT 4 Brian W. Blanchard
DANE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE BRANCH 3 Valerie L. Bailey-Rihn
DANE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE BRANCH 4 Everett Mitchell
DANE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE BRANCH 5 Nicholas J. McNamara
DANE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE BRANCH 14 John D. Hyland
DANE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE BRANCH 15 Stephen Ehlke
DANE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE BRANCH 17 Peter C. Anderson
Dane County Supervisor District 14 George Gillis
Madison Metropolitan School District School Board Member - Seat 3 Dean Loumos
Madison Metropolitan School District School Board Member - Seat 4 James L. Howard
Madison Metropolitan School District School Board Member - Seat 5 TJ Mertz
Have you figured it out yet? Here’s a hint: The problem starts after the State Supreme Court candidates.
Do you see it now? Eleven offices up for election and every single candidate on the ballot is running unopposed. It’s bad enough that people are not voting. But we cannot even get people to run for public office.
We complain that money has poisoned the system, and that politicians are corrupt. We sign petitions and protest for change. We complain when Texas school board members wield tremendous power over textbooks, yet of the three seats on the Madison school board, all three candidates are running unopposed. I promise you those three seats on the Madison school board impact me and my high school-aged son far more than a decision made by some nut in Texas.
Elections matter. Local elections matter even more.
[A]bout 33 percent of all state legislative-district elections in 2012 had only one candidate per seat in the race—and...it’s likely that the vast majority of those candidates were incumbents running unopposed.
Many of those races can be won with a mere 3,000 to 5,000 votes or so, depending on the year.
Think about that for a minute: The races that really matter—school board, city council, county board, all the way up to state legislatures—could actually be competitive if we only fielded a candidate. In 2014 Wisconsin had two state senators run unopposed, and 46 of 99 state Assembly seats were unopposed. How can we expect to have anything change if we just give up before even putting forth a candidate?
Forget gerrymandering: We are shooting ourselves in the foot before we even get out of the gate. This happens in all 50 states. So, how do you train more and better democrats? You get them on the school board, you get them on the county board, you get them into your state legislature. You don’t do it by not running a candidate.
If we want change—real change—in this country, we need to spend less time complaining about the Republican outrage of the week and start doing something about it by encouraging people to run for office. Even if they are in a heavily gerrymandered district, it’s possible that we could pick off a Republican here and there just by giving them an opponent.
The candidate that runs in that heavily gerrymandered district today could end up being the president of tomorrow.