I visited with a friend the other day over lunch at an outdoor café—all well-distanced from one another and those around us. We discussed how my friend’s adult son has been eager to get involved in political advocacy over the past few months. He wants to make something happen. However, the national candidates he supports have the veritable ‘snowballs chance of succeeding’ in his state, and my friend’s son is reluctant to put his energy into a losing cause. He wants to do something that has the potential for success and making the sort of change for which he is looking. I suggested that he tell his son about important races beyond the national races. 

Dr. Greg Boris is the Senior Leadership and Policy Specialist at the University of South Dakota’s Center for Disabilities. Dr. Boris’ career has centered on children and individuals with disabilities. He also served as the policy director and lobbyist for a policy advocacy organization which advanced initiatives promoting children’s health, education, and safety. Dr. Boris also sits on the AUCD policy committee.  

With all the attention on the Presidential race and high profile Senate contests, other races are flying under the radar. Prime among them are the state legislative races. Of the 99 state legislative chambers across the US, 86 are holding elections on November 3, 2020.  

What makes these races important is that it is in this election cycle that many state legislatures become responsible for drawing the lines which define state and Congressional legislative districts. This is called reapportionment. The resulting districts are drawn based on the data gained from the 2020 Census. In half the states, the state legislature has primary responsibility for developing the redistricting plan. And, the majority party, when drawing these lines, tends to configure them in a way that is favorable to their party. Redistricting has the power to decide who represents us and how fiscal and policy decisions are made for the next decade. People think about reapportionment as being a national issue—which states gain Congressional seats and which lose; where are the lines drawn for Congressional districts. But reapportionment is also important at a state level. Lines are drawn for state legislative districts based on the results from the 2020 Census. In half the states, the state legislature has primary responsibility for creating a redistricting plan. 

Several days after our lunch, I visited with another friend who is running for a seat in his state’s legislature as a first-time candidate. His district has a pretty even split between Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. The people living in his district have the good fortune of choosing from candidates who are issue focused, problem solvers, and work across party lines. His is a competitive race. He is walking the district, knocking on many doors, raising and spending money all so that he can define himself to get voter support. 

My candidate-friend did mention that he is amazed at the number of people who not only like how he views issues, but are also willing to give time (and sometimes money) to support his campaign. He has people of all ages putting out yard signs, distributing literature, preparing mailings, and more. It is apparent the political inclinations of my son’s friend are not unique, but rather an example of widespread political engagement that has the power to change local and state campaigning.  

We now have less than a month before the elections. This is the time when candidates are making their final push to hopeful victory. They cannot do it alone. They rely on people like us to support them. In these final weeks I encourage you to look at local candidates you really like. Reach out to them. Ask if you can help. I’d wager most of them would welcome you with open arms. 

And, of course, vote on or before November 3.