Year after year, many pundits deride the low voter turnout for elections besides the presidential race. They often cite low enthusiasm or incompetent candidates as the cause. However, the real reasons are much more mundane than these. Voters simply don’t know enough about smaller elections or the candidates running in them, often due to negligible media attention on these races. Elections most affected by this are those for governor of states (also referred to as gubernatorial elections). These elections often experience significantly lower voter turnout than presidential elections, even when they are placed on the same ballot as the presidential candidates.
Despite these problems, gubernatorial elections are still vital to the political process, as governors possess veto powers that can stall, if not kill, bills for good. Many states even have line item vetoes, which allow governors to veto parts of legislation instead of all of it. With the political polarization that is all over the country, it is no surprise these vetoes sometimes lead to deadlock between governors and state legislatures. Illinois, for example, has had such deadlock between Governor Bruce Rauner and the state legislature that it has not had an exact budget for months.
Governors also have wide control over the policies states decide to make. In Florida, officials of the State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) are not allowed to say the words “climate change.” Even though Florida is at the forefront of rising sea levels caused by climate change, the DEP head appointed by Rick Scott has made it a policy to ignore the issue. Their spokesperson simply says, “DEP does not have a policy on this.”
With this in mind, we can view the competitive gubernatorial elections with a different outlook. One election being scrutinized all over the country is in North Carolina. Republican Governor Pat McCrory was expected to be reelected early on against Democratic Attorney General, Roy Cooper; however, wide backlash against the controversial HB2 bill, designed to ban trans people from using bathrooms different from their gender on their birth certificate, has made the race much closer. Recent polls put the race at a toss-up.
Another surprising situation is the gubernatorial election in West Virginia. A Republican bastion, many expected that the Democrats would lose this race decisively, as the conservative Democratic governor was term-limited and polls were predicting that Republicans would win. People were shocked then, when coal and agriculture industry billionaire and Democrat Jim Justice, won the Democratic nomination. Justice campaigned fiercely across the state with his folksy attitude and was endorsed by the prominent union, the United Mine Workers. Even though Donald Trump won by a huge margin in West Virginia’s presidential primaries, Justice is polling ahead of the Republican candidate, and might have a chance at winning in the a conservative bastion.
Democrats all over the country, even in red states like Missouri, are also feeling confident about their chances to win. The widespread unpopularity of Donald Trump with suburban, college-educated Republicans might just cause that key demographic to stay home in November. Regardless, gubernatorial elections will prove to be very interesting this year.