STORIES

3 Underrated Votes That Can Change Your State

By David Jenison on November 9, 2018

Secretary of State

When people say Secretary of State, most people think of the diplomatic role held by the likes of Hillary Clinton, Mike Pompeo and even Thomas Jefferson. On the state level, however, the roles of the office are different, and they include handling elections. Ideally this person should fulfill his or her duties without partisanship, but these are not ideal times. 

Voter suppression is what happens when politicians push ideas that lack (small "d") democratic support, and rather than change their ideas for the better, they opt to change democracy instead. Secretaries of State should fight this, but some are being accused of active voter suppression right now on behalf of their political party. Among those taking the most heat for limiting polling locations and purging voter rolls, Secretaries Brian Kemp (Georgia) and Kris Kobach (Kansas) are actually overseeing the gubernatorial elections in which they are also the candidates. 

How can you fight back? Pay attention to who's running for Secretary of State. This is an elected office in most (but not all) states, so research the candidates and vote for the person who reflects your values. Hopefully those values include free and fair elections where voting is encouraged, not suppressed. 

Attorney General

Attorney Generals are the chief legal officers of a country or state. Jeff Sessions is the current AG for the U.S., but states elect their own AGs to enforce the law. Kamala Harris (California) and Scott Pruitt (Oklahoma) are both former AGs, while current officeholders include the likes of Xavier Becerra, Bob Ferguson and Barbara Underwood. When Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo and hinted at a crackdown on state-legal cannabis, Becerra defiantly declared, "In California, we decided it was best to regulate, not criminalize, cannabis. We intend to vigorously enforce our state's laws and protect our state's interests."

See why the state AG office is so important? And while a sensible AG can help with sensible cannabis regulations, a prohibitionist can attempt to push back on voter-approved initiatives that legalized medical and/or recreational use. 

There's more. In recent years, AGs accelerated the rate of lawsuits filed against the federal government, from Pruitt fighting on behalf of corporate air polluters to Ferguson (and others) challenging Trump's kids-in-cages policy. Some argue that these lawsuits amount to obstructionism, and some certainly do, though some injustices deserve to be obstructed. Your vote helps determine what values your state fights for, be it taking on the federal government or simply shaping the enforcement of state law. 

State Legislators

Like the U.S. Congress, state legislatures are made up of an upper house (Senate) and a lower house (called either the House of Representatives, House of Delegates or some form of Assembly). These often-overlooked offices play an important role in what happens in your state. This is also a key legislative body where change needs to happen if more states want to legalize cannabis through legislation rather than with ballot initiatives (note: the latter is not available in all states). 

Voting for state lawmakers is especially important this year with new congressional maps being drawn after the 2020 census. With population figures in hand, legislators and governors in a majority of states will carve up their congressional districts, and the controlling party typically draws lines favorable to itself. By gerrymandering districts, state governments can help their party win a majority of U.S. House seats often with a minority of the vote. 

Governors and most state senators serve four-year terms, so several state candidates on the 2018 ballot will be in office when restricting takes place. For this reason, voting for state candidates in 2018 and 2020 will affect both cannabis legislation and the future makeup of the U.S. Congress. 

Photo credit: Joe Crimmings/Flickr

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