Here on Ricochet, we obsess about the presidential race perhaps overmuch. I imagine it's for two reasons: This is one highly visible race we all hold in common, and this election year is a choice election between two visions for America's future.
There's nothing wrong with that, but I'd like to encourage fellow Ricocheteers to step back from Obama-Romney in these last few hours and spend some time reviewing the rest of the ticket. I'd also like to know if you all have any strategies for managing these voting responsibilities (a friend mentioned his about school board races yesterday: "I never vote for any of 'em! They're all terrible!") This is our first election in a new state and city, and just trying to orient ourselves to the 30-something races we're about to help decide has been overwhelming.
These local races have far less recognition and hinge on far fewer votes, but they determine where the bulk of our taxes are spent and they shape the political culture in our states and neighborhoods.
Since I know the most about education policy, I'll use that as an example. States spend up to a half of their budgets on education--reason enough to pay attention. Most states have hundreds of school districts, run by school boards whose members are chosen typically by a few hundred votes. I live in the largest school district in Indiana, and apparently some 20 people are all running for seven school board spots. It's nigh-impossible, however, to find out what most of these candidates believe about such basic issues as how to do more with less or how to handle that large portion of students whose parents use school as subsidized babysitting. Most don't even have websites, and the incumbents all have resumes like "Teacher union leader, teacher for 35 years" and "United Way Early Childhood Program Director [i.e., believes government should guide even the thumbsucking stage]."
Everyone is focused on how Ohio will treat Romney, but few have noticed that 194 Ohio school districts are asking voters to increase their taxes. The Buckeye Institute documents how many of these districts pay their teachers dramatically higher wages than their neighbors earn. As a result, school spending has increased at more than twice inflation.
Voters both statewide and locally are considering a very high number of education-related ballot initiatives, largely because the 2010 Republican surge and President Obama's imperial style of governing has pushed states into numerous proposed changes. I outline them here. There are 9 policy-related questions and 5 statewide education tax questions, along with thousands of local tax and leadership decisions voters will make tomorrow.
All of this information raises two sets of questions in my mind. First: Is it possible to make those decisions clearer for voters? If so, how do we do it? Do local newspapers do their jobs in this respect? Even if they do, are enough people paying attention so that the information makes a difference? Second: Does it overwhelm democracy to ask us to consider so many candidates and issues at once? What's the alternative?