Election 2020 visual

Opinion columnist Leo Niehorster-Cook argues that voters need to pay attention to local elections even if they're not satisfied with the top of the ticket.


Many of us were disappointed by Joe Biden’s success in the Democratic primary this year. For many, Biden represented a return to “business as usual.” This was exacerbated when Biden was compared to the rest of his former Democratic opponents: several women, ethnic minorities, a queer man and a socialist (and a vegan!). 

For some, business as usual sounds just fine. Some have nostalgia for the Obama era, regarding it as a peaceful period of dignity, unity and equality. Even I’ll admit, compared to the white supremacist in the Oval Office quickly spiraling into fascism, the Trump administration made 2009-2017 look like a utopian dream. 

But ultimately, we should look forward, not backward. Business as usual doesn't cut it. Many progressives have decided they won’t vote for Biden for one reason or another. Some are horrified by a man who abetted the Obama administration’s targeted assassinations of American citizens (including a 16-year-old) and their numerous war crimes as defined by the United Nations’ Charter (and still more throughout Biden’s career). 

For many, this is too much to handle. Rather than vote for the imperialist racist and (alleged) sexual abuser that is Biden, they may opt to stay home.

Don’t do that.

In primary elections, there are three main driving forces as to which candidate is the best nominee. Policy, of course, is the the most discussed – determining which candidate best represents the country's interests. Another big issue is attracting swing voters and moderates.

There’s also the issue of turnout. Which candidate will make the most voters show up?

Turnout is usually discussed in terms of the outcome of the presidential election. Unenthusiastic people are less likely to vote. After all, just showing up at the voting booth involves taking time out of one’s day, potentially traveling far enough that it’s a real burden .

This is why voter suppression is such an effective and nefarious tactic.

I’m not here to tell you to hold your nose and “vote blue no matter who.” How one votes for president is a profoundly personal decision, and this cycle seems to have more nuance than ever.

Some prefer to vote third-party. If a third-party earns 5% of the national vote, they are eligible for public funding next election cycle. Others write in non-candidates to teach their party a lesson.

Whatever you do, it is paramount to keep down-ticket races in mind. Turnout isn’t just about the presidential election.

I’m not even talking about congresspeople or governors. The vast majority of governance in this country happens locally.

If we want progressive policy, we'll need to start small. Electing a progressive president sounds cool, but it’s a much harder task than electing progressive city commissioners, attorneys general, judges, school board members — the list goes on.

Local elections are the most important. They’re also the least well-known. They are where progressives stand to make a substantive difference this election cycle.

Many students don’t know that Lawrence had an election last November or that Douglas County will have another on Aug. 4th. Not many more know that, in addition to the presidential election, all elections occur on Nov. 3rd in Kansas and every other state. 

Vote for Biden if you want to; don’t if you don’t. Either way, do your research on small-time candidates, pick your favorites and then vote for them. To make real change, we need a bottom-up revolution.

For a list of all Kansas’ elections this year, click here.

Leo Niehorster-Cook is a senior from Leawood studying philosophy and cognitive science.