The mid-term elections are less than two weeks away. In Orange County, the pre-election buzz over which party should control Congress has grown so loud as to drown out discussion of the many local offices up for grabs. But even if cable news ignores these races, Orange County voters cannot afford to. To truly have an impact this November, voters must remember to vote in local, “down-ballot” races.
If you are like most voters, you already have a preference for Senator, Governor and probably your member of Congress. But you may not have an opinion about a range of local offices, like District Attorney, Sheriff or school district trustee.
To ignore these down-ballot races would be a mistake. Take, for example, the District Attorney, who holds one of Orange County’s most powerful offices. He (or she) oversees more than 250 prosecutors. Every day, these prosecutors make decisions about whether to charge someone with a crime, what to charge them with, and how relentlessly to pursue their case.
As top prosecutor, the DA sets priorities for prosecution. For instance, the DA decides how to prioritize crimes of sexual assault. And he also sets the agenda for addressing issues like police brutality, gang violence—or even fraud and environmental crimes.
Given this broad power, the District Attorney also sets the tone for how the local police and Sheriff’s deputies interact with Orange County residents. This includes where the police should focus their time and resources, and how they should treat immigrants and people of color.
Despite the importance of the DA race, relatively few voters bother to mark their preferred candidate on election day. In the June primary, only 543,202 of Orange County’s approximately 1,459,664 registered voters cast a ballot for District Attorney in the primary. Yet 620,821 voters—nearly 80,000 more—voted on who should be Governor. This large chunk of the electorate represents those who chose not to exercise their vote in down-ballot races, despite how important those down-ballot races can be.
Yet DA is not the only local office at issue in this election. Orange County voters have the opportunity to elect a Sheriff, as well as city council and school board members depending on where you live. Together, these officials will be responsible for fighting crime in unincorporated areas, addressing issues of homelessness and overseeing school curricula. Perhaps more so than any politician we send to Washington, DC, these local officials will determine our quality of life on a day-to-day basis.
In a time when politics can seem like one big national shout-fest, it is worth remembering how important these down-ballot offices truly are. And to ensure our local officials serve us well, there is only one thing to do: Vote!
Timothy Perry is a member of the American Constitution Society, a non-partisan, non-profit organization founded on the principle that the law should be a force to improve the lives of all people.
Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.
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