So, just what are they voting on today?

Most people know that the US election today will select the next President of the United States.  It’s perhaps less widely known that a huge selection of other races are being run today, with citizens facing a huge raft of different candidates at different elections, from federal to state to city.  It’s this complexity that leads to voting machines allowing electors to select a party ticket, which in turn lead to hanging chads.

Here’s a handy round up of US elections happening in 2008:

Federal elections

The presidential race

Senatorial races for 35 senators (terms last 6 years with a third of the house up each time; each state gets two senators).  The Senate is currently finely balanced with 49 Rep, 49 Dem and 2 Ind (who caucus with the Dems).  Predictions vary, but twice as many Rep seats are up for election this year as Dem, and it is technically possible, although unlikely, that the Democrats will get a supermajority of over 60 Senators. Currently Republican seats that could go Dem include Colorado, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Virginia, North Carolina, Oregon and Alaska.

The entire lower house – 435 Representatives (terms last two years, state allocation of congressmen is proportional to population, from a single representative for each of the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, all the way up to 53 representatives for giant California, where more than 10% of the population live.  The House is currently 235 Dem, 199 Rep, 1 vacancy.

State elections

Gubernatorial races – the following states are electing governors: North Dakota, Utah Vermont, Indiana (all likely to remain Rep);  Missouri, Washington State, North Carolina (could go either way); Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, West Virginia (likely to remain Dem)

Most US states will be electing their state legislatures, with different bodies existing in each state.

Sub-state elections

Many cities and towns will be electing officials from mayors to school boards with a huge variety of local government powers.  Police chiefs feature at this level as well as district attorneys and even some judges.

Voter Propositions

As well as voting people into offices, there will also be dozens of mini-referendums on social issues.  These can come from bottom-up petitions or top-down canvassing of opinions from state legislatures.  For example, Californians will be voting on no less than 12 initiatives, including removing marriage rights from gay couples, financing a new high-speed rail link from Los Angeles to San Francisco, abortion rights for minors and new regulations on the treatment of livestock.  Traditionally, putting conservative motions on ballots has been a way of driving turnout for Republican candidates.

A worked example

If you live in San Francisco District 7, what’s on your ballot paper is below.  This looks complicated for starters, but is actually simplified over some states as neither of California’s Senators is up for election this year, and the “Governator” Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t up for election until 2010.

That ballot in full:

  • President
  • Federal House of Representatives
  • California State Senate
  • California State Assembly
  • Judge of the Superior Court
  • BART Director (Bay Area Rapid Transit)
  • Board of Education
  • Board of Supervisors
  • Community College Board
  • State Propositions 1 to 12
  • Local Propositions A to V (these range from more money for a local hospital to mandating state representatives to end support for the Iraq war – but most notably also include Prop R “Shall the City change the name of the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant to the George W Bush Sewage Plant?”)
A sample 6 page ballot paper is available for download – but be warned – it’s an 11mb PDF.  I dread to think what this would look like if the Committee for Ballot Simplification hadn’t worked their magic on the paper. The ballot paper is also multi-lingual – in English, Spanish, and (I think) Chinese.
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This entry was posted in LDVUSA.


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