It’s two weeks until election day, which means you’re probably sick of hearing about Theresa Greenfield and Kara Eastman and how this election is the most consequential election ever each time you try to watch the local news.
Social media will not provide you an escape from the political inundation, as celebrities from Lady Gaga to LeBron James to Kylie Jenner have used it to tell you to vote. This may be working — Brookings is predicting a once-in-a-century voter turnout in 2020. But just getting to the polls is not enough.
It is also important to know just who and what is on the ballot. If you only know about the Presidential candidates, you are only making your voice heard on less than 10% of your ballot. Even then, your vote for President may make very little difference in the election’s outcome depending on where you live, thanks to the Electoral College.
So instead of just telling college students to vote, I would like to see college students vote informed, all the way from the Presidency to the Natural Resource District board members.
Last week, I wrote that if you don’t like either of your choices for Commander in Chief, you can vote third party in reliably red or blue districts and states, since your vote will probably not impact the Presidential election. However, your voice is much more meaningful at a local level, where elections can often come down to a couple of dozen votes. In 2018, one Nebraska State Senate race was decided by a mere 105 votes. By contrast, the closest state in the 2016 Presidential election was Michigan, which was decided by a difference of more than 13,000 voters.
Sadly, a 2018 survey by Johns Hopkins found that fewer than 20% of Americans can name their state legislators, even though voter turnout in federal general elections has been over 50% since at least 1948.
Nebraska’s legislature is non-partisan, so Republican and Democrat labels will not appear next to legislature candidates' names. The strategy of voting down party lines on your ballot will not work, making it even more important to understand who the candidates are.
Not everyone living in Lincoln is able to vote for a State Senator in this election cycle, but people who live in odd numbered legislative districts can. You can find maps of the Nebraska legislative districts here if you are unsure of which district you live in.
Here is a breakdown of the elections. You can find out more about the candidates by going to their websites, which are linked to their names and by reading the Lincoln Journal Star’s voting guide.
Sen. Hilgers is seeking his second four-year term in the legislature, but first, he will have to defeat 23-year-old recent UNL graduate Brodey Weber. Hilgers says his priorities in the legislature are lower taxes, better healthcare and reliable roads. Notably, Hilgers was one of 12 legislators to vote against a bill prohibiting discrimination in the workplace based on hairstyle, which was passed by the unicameral, but vetoed by Gov. Pete Ricketts. Weber’s priorities include access to quality education, criminal justice reform and environmental sustainability, among others.
Sen. Geist made headlines this summer for her bill banning dismemberment abortion in the state, as well as her reaction to the George Floyd shooting, which she said shook her “to the core.” You can also see a video interview I did with Geist this summer here. Pleasant is a public interest lawyer who says her priority is to improve on issues that create barriers for Nebraska families to grow and strengthen.
Sen. Wishart has been one of the biggest proponents of bringing medical marijuana to Nebraska during her time in the legislature. She recently led a petition campaign alongside Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld to get medical marijuana on the ballot this November. The petition drive got over 182,000 signatures, enough to put the issue on the November ballot, though it was eventually invalidated by the State Supreme Court. Bickford is an IT Project Manager at NelNet who wants to bring a strong fiscally conservative voice to the legislature. She is against most forms of gun control — including red flag laws — and is strongly pro-life.
The lone Lincoln race without an incumbent is shaping up to be a very close battle, as the Journal-Star’s Don Walton would tell you. Campbell is a military veteran and former child abuse investigator committed to cutting healthcare costs, investing in education and ensuring transparency in government spending. Bostar would like to see the Legislature consider a statewide application of the policies advocated for by the “8 can’t wait” campaign, which seeks to make policing safer. As Executive Director of Nebraska Conservation Voters and Conservation Nebraska, protecting the environment is another priority of Bostar’s campaign.
Check back next week for a breakdown of other down ballot elections and candidates.
Brian Beach is a sophomore journalism major. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.