We’re casting our ballots today to weigh in on North Dakota’s U.S. Senate and House races, races for statewide office, state legislative races (for those of us who live in odd-numbered districts), state ballot measures, and more. If you have not yet voted, I ask that you visit vote.nd.gov right now to make a plan for casting your ballot today. Visit freetv.org for videos of local candidate forums and debates; they may help you identify which candidates you support.
Some of us will be on the edge of our seats this evening as we wait for election results to roll in, precinct by precinct. A close race or two may not be decided until Wednesday or even later in the week. In the meantime, I want to share some thoughts on what it means for elected candidates to serve our community and how we can engage with them long after Election Day. I especially want to reach readers who may not usually follow local or state politics closely.
In a republican system of governance like our own – one involving a constitutional framework, separation of powers into different branches of government, and representative democracy – the candidates we elect are supposed to serve as proxies for our interests and preferences while also honoring our national and state constitutions. Ideally, those elected to public office will strive to genuinely represent us (their constituents) as we work through them to govern ourselves. Representing a group of people who differ from one another – in terms of identities, employment, education, wealth, religion, and more – is challenging. Even the sincerest elected public servant is sure to upset some people some of the time, as constituents will often disagree on certain issues. Compromise takes hard work, a lot of listening, and time and effort spent weighing the pros and cons of decisions.
Given the challenge that political representation poses, how can those who are elected to office effectively represent us if they only hear from us around Election Day? How can we practice the lowercase-R republican and lowercase-D democratic values of self-governance if we stop paying attention once election season has passed?
I urge you to stay tuned-in after today and beyond. One of the best ways to do that is to follow the 66th Legislative Assembly that begins in January and ends in April. Familiarize yourself with the legis.nd.gov website. Visit the “Find My Legislators” section to find out who your state representatives and state senator are. These are the folks who specifically represent you and your neighbors when it comes to writing and passing state legislation. There are 47 legislative districts in North Dakota, each with about 13,000 to 21,000 residents. Some, like urban Bismarck districts, cover small areas of land while others, like rural districts, cover all or part of multiple counties.
It is important for us to understand our own districts if we are going to govern ourselves through those we elect. Furthermore, in order to best represent us, our elected officials will need to hear what we think from time to time. Call your state representatives and state senator. Email them. Ask to meet with them. Tell them about the most pressing issues facing your community. Testify during open comment periods of legislative committee meetings.
Let us consider today’s election only a first of many steps toward continually governing ourselves. Let us govern ourselves every month of every year, long after the noise of an election has died down, and long before candidates come to ask for our votes again.
Ellie Shockley is a social scientist and education researcher. This column represents her personal views and not the views of any organization. She completed a doctorate at the University of Chicago and postdoctorate at Nebraska. She lives in Mandan.