As Nov. 6 inches closer, more and more conversations turn toward the topic, "Who are you voting for?" Don't be so quick to answer, because it is not just a one-sentence answer. This election season, Knox County voters are not only casting their votes for their preferred presidential candidate, but also for the Senate, House of Representatives, and a State House seat. The ballot also includes seven county and one city charter provisions. So, who are you voting for, Armstrong or Cassady? Do you think Steck or Higdon would make better economic decisions?
Many students are active in campaigning for the presidential candidate they love, but most have not even heard of the representatives who make the most direct change to the way they live. During the past two years, Representative Joe Armstrong, who represents Knox County in the Tennessee State House of Representatives, has co-sponsored seven bills dealing with education, several of which apply to UT. For example, he voted to enact the "Kristen Azevedo Act" which requires all university housing employees who have access to student rooms and apartments to undergo a background check and supply their fingerprints when applying as well. This piece of legislation prevents registered sex offenders from working in university housing. He also removed a specific type of mint from the UT bookstore last year which was packaged in a tin featuring President Obama that read, "This is change? Disappointments?" because he and a student felt they were satirizing the president and were not appropriate in a public university store.
He was walking around in our bookstore making changes. You cannot get much physically closer to campus than that. State and local representatives have a far greater effect on our day-to-day lives than legislators on a national scale and especially the president of the United States, so it would only make sense that voters understand who is running and what each candidate stands for. The first step to learning about who represents you on a state level is determining which house statewide, senate statewide, and congressional district you are in. The easiest way to do this is to visit http://www.capitol.tn.gov/districtmaps/index.html. You can simply enter in the address that you used to register to vote to find out your districts. If you are not registered in Tennessee, you can go to your home state's capitol page and do the same. After you have figured out which districts you are in, do a quick Google search for a sample ballot from your county. Knoxville's can be found on www.knoxcounty.org.
Another difference between voting on the national and state level is that your vote actually counts for the latter. In 2010, Knox County's State Senate Representative Stacey Campfield only won by 714 votes. Third party candidates have much greater chances of being elected in state races, so if you're a big fan of the green or the constitutional parties you can vote for a candidate who represents what you believe in without your friends complaining that you are throwing away your vote. Be informed when you step inside the voting booth this year so you can be sure to support the candidate who will make the decisions that represent your beliefs as they vote on legislation that affects our daily lives.
—Hannah Bailey is a junior in political science. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.