Vote Your Values This Year
This autumn, citizens of the United States will vote in one of the country’s most anticipated elections: midterms. While voter turnout for non-presidential elections is historically low—only 36.4 percent of eligible citizens voted in 2014, and just 12 percent of millennials made it to the polls—we hope 2018 will be different.
Midterms matter. With the potential for a flipped House on the horizon and a record number of women running for Congress, including Rashida Tlaib who could become the first Muslim woman elected to the House of Representatives, US citizens are needed—to show up and to make their voices heard.
Even if you aren’t familiar with how midterm elections work or didn’t vote in your primaries, don’t worry; you can still participate in this fall’s election. We’ve put together a guide on everything you need to know about registering, researching candidates, and voting on November 6. All you need to do is read it—and then register and vote. The future of our country depends on it.
What Are Midterms?
On Tuesday, November 6, voters will choose candidates to fill 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 seats in the Senate. While not a presidential campaign, midterm elections are just as important; the results will determine which party is in control of Congress moving forward.
Succinctly explained by The Independent, “the battle between the two main parties—the Democrats and the Republicans—can be almost as fierce in the midterms as in a presidential election…The party that owns the White House always wants majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, so the president’s legislative agenda has a chance of actually being voted through.”
Currently, Republicans hold 236 seats in the House of Representatives, while Democrats occupy 193. Every seat in the House is up for grabs during this election, as representatives are only voted in for two-year terms. In the Senate, Republicans are also in the majority with 51 of the 100 seats. Although Senate terms last six years, they are staggered so that about 1/3 of the branch are voted on each election. In November, 35 will be up for reelection.
Midterms are also the first electoral test of the presidency. On November 6, voters can officially express their satisfaction or disapproval for the president with their votes. Additionally, this midterm election, 34 states will vote for their governors (called gubernatorial elections). States will also vote on numerous state offices and policies, including proposed ballot initiatives.
Why Are Midterms Important?
Democrats are hoping for a ‘Blue Wave’ in November, meaning a flip of the House, and possibly the Senate.
If we look to history, midterms generally see the president’s party lose some seats. In fact, since the Civil War, “the president's party has lost, on average, 32 seats in the House and two in the Senate” in the election. If the 2018 midterms align with history, the opposing party (Democrats) will regain some power. To flip the House though, Democrats will need to gain 24 seats while maintaining the 194 they currently hold. To win the Senate, they need to retain 26 seats, while also taking control of two more.
Flipping the House is a lot more challenging than it sounds. In fact, it’s only happened three times in the past 60 years: in 1994 during the Clinton presidency, in 2006 during the Bush presidency, and in 2010 during President Obama’s first term.
If Democrats are able to control a branch (or both) of Congress, Republicans will no longer be able to send legislation to President Trump’s desk on the Republican vote alone. While this doesn’t mean Democratic bills have any more chance of reaching the president, it does kill the potential for sweeping legislation to be implemented in the next two years—legislation that could impact the United States for decades.
To learn more about what it will take for a ‘Blue Wave’ in 2018, we’re binging How to Flip the House, a mini-series put out by the Can He Do That? podcast. Broadcasting firsthand accounts from the strategists who helped flip the House in 1994, 2006, and 2010, this audio series is taking an in-depth look at the wave election years and how they changed the political system, as well as what they can tell us about this November’s midterms.
Supporting Your Candidate & Political Party
Learn About the Candidates
To learn about each state’s candidates, we’re following Roll Call’s comprehensive roadmap. An interactive, color-coded map, users can hover over each state or district to see who’s running as well as click on the candidate for further information. Use this site to learn about all the important stuff, like each candidate’s party, committee assignments, and political highlights.
Another excellent resource is AARP’s article, Six Ways to Checkout a Candidate. From fact-checking to learning about a candidate’s voting history, it’s our go-to guide for discovering all we need to know about who’s running.
Aside from learning about and voting for candidates this November, you can also support your party by campaigning, attending local meetings, raising funds, and hosting an election event. We love this election toolkit from Care Action! to help get you started.
Learn About The Issues
A few of the most critical ballot initiatives for 2018, ones we should be informed on and watching, are the Alabama State Abortion Policy Amendment, the Massachusetts Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Veto Referendum, and the Florida Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative.
Vice’s article, The Most Important Ballot Measures People Will Vote on for the 2018 Midterms is a useful read for understanding these statewide issues. Even if you don’t live in the state where an initiative is being voted on, you can support campaign efforts by raising awareness and by making financial contributions.
How To Register To Vote
Unless you live in North Dakota where you can show up to vote as long as you have an ID, the United States requires that you register to vote for the midterm elections. Registering is simple and, in most states, you can do it online in only a few minutes. Some states even allow election-day registration, including Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Utah. Read up on your state’s rules to ensure you’re eligible to vote this November.
Automatic Voter Registration
Thirteen U.S. states automatically register citizens to vote, as long as you’ve interacted with a motor vehicle or government agency. This means, if you have a driver’s license and live in one of the following states, you are automatically registered to vote unless you opt out. Automatic voter registration states, also called ‘Motor Vote’ states include: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.
As automatic voter registration is still a relatively new system—the first states to use it were Oregon and California in 2015—we still recommend checking your registration online or with local voting offices.
Registration For Overseas Citizens
U.S. Citizens living abroad can also vote in the midterm elections. In fact, this year will be the first election where military members from West Virginia can vote from overseas using a Smartphone App. Depending on your state of residence, you will receive an absentee ballot to fill out and return via mail, email, or fax. You can also drop your absentee ballot off at your nearest U.S. embassy.
To participate in this upcoming election, it is essential that you complete a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) at least 45 days before November 6.
Pre-Registration for Voters Under 18
If you are under the age of 18 but have a birthday on or before November 6, you can still register depending on your state of residence. Thirteen states, including California, Florida, and D.C., allow adolescents to pre-register as soon as they turn 16. Even if you are unable to participate in the 2018 midterms, consider pre-registering so you will be registered to vote for future elections.
Where To Vote For Midterms
Mail-In Voting And Poll Locations
On November 6, you can cast your vote by mail (check your state for postmark deadlines) or in person at a polling station. If you are unable to vote on the day of election for whatever reason, you may also be eligible to participate in early voting.
Available in 37 states, citizens can vote up to 40 days before the election and are not required to explain why they need to vote early. As each participating state has its own designated early voting rules, times, and locations, make sure to read up on your state’s regulations well in advance.
To learn even more about the upcoming midterms, here are a few additional resources:
Two sites we love for up-to-date information about candidates and the upcoming midterms are Political Wire and Politico. Ballotpedia is also excellent for non-partisan information about candidates, policies, the election, and more.
Vox has an excellent library of midterm guides and up-to-date election coverage. A few of our favorite articles include, A record-setting number of women are running for the House in 2018, 5 ways the 2018 midterms could change American politics, and 9 women to watch from this year's midterms.
Finally, To Reclaim the House, Democrats Need to Flip 24 G.O.P. Seats. 25 Are in Clinton Territory by The New York Times is a fantastic read.
Cover photo via Nick Glover
Kayti Christian, a staff writer for The Good Trade, is a storyteller, creator, activist, and avid traveler hailing from Colorado, now living in London. With 30+ stamps in her passport, she is passionate about responsible tourism and is always looking for new ways to be a more conscious traveler. She is currently pursuing her MA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at City, University of London.