Voting is one of the founding principles that Democracy is built upon, and it should never be taken for granted. However, many people tend to focus in on presidential elections, and let midterm elections fall to the wayside. Voter turnout for midterm elections has always been conspicuously low. While this is understandable, because presidential elections are far more heavily covered by the media and the general public is far more aware of the candidates and their stances, it’s important to know why midterm elections are important as well. Every American of voting age should be at the polls on midterm election day, the same as they should be on a presidential election day. So why are midterm elections so important?
Who Is Up For Election?
While US Presidents are elected every four years, members of the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of Congress serve only two year terms. Therefore, every two years, between presidential elections, all 435 seats in the House go up for election in what is called a midterm election. US Senators serve six year terms, so at any given election, presidential or midterm, approximately one third of the Senate seats are up for election. While governors hold four year terms, many states have their gubernatorial elections during midterm elections rather than on presidential election years These same states will therefore hold elections for all the other state-wide officers, such as secretary of state, attorney general, and lieutenant general, state legislatures, and other officers like state and county judges during midterm elections.
There’s a saying, “The party that controls the chamber, controls the agenda.” The House of Representatives and the Senate must approve the president’s agenda on some of the largest issues out there, and also maintain the balance of power within our government. Therefore, voicing your opinion on these candidates can have as much, if not more of an impact on the future of our country than voting for the president does. Furthermore, each state has its own rights and creates individual laws that exist within the larger infrastructure of the federal government. If you have an opinion on state issues such as marijuana legalization or gay marriage, to name a few, then voting on your local officials is incredibly important. Unlike a presidential race, these offices aren’t voted for through an electoral college process. This means that, even if you’re of the opinion that your vote “doesn’t count” during a presidential race, it counts in a midterm election more than anywhere else.
Election of Representatives
The number of members in the House of Representatives has been at 435 since 1911. All 435 representatives are up for reelection in every midterm election. The number of representatives from each state is determined by the state’s population as reported in the decennial US Census. Through a process called “apportionment,” each state is divided into a number of congressional districts. One representative is elected from each of these districts. Only voters residing in the congressional district that the candidate will represent can vote for representatives.
To be elected as a US Representative, a person must be at least 25 years of age when sworn in, have been a US citizen for at least seven years, and a resident of the state from which he or she is elected.
Election of Senators
There are 100 total US Senators, two representing each of the 50 states. These Senators serve six year terms. These six-year terms are staggered so that both senators from a given state are never up for reelection at the same time. This staggering also means that in each midterm election, approximately one-third of the Senators are up for reelection.
Prior to the ratification of the 17th Amendment, Senators were selected by their state legislatures, rather than by a direct vote of the people they would represent. The Founding Fathers felt that since the Senators represented an entire state, they should be elected by a vote of the state legislature. However, this system was revamped, and today, all registered voters in the state may vote for Senators. Election winners are determined by the plurality rule, meaning that the candidate who gets the most votes wins, whether or not they won a majority of the votes.
In order to run for the Senate, a person must be at least 30 years old by the time he or she takes the oath of office, be a citizen of the US for at least nine years, and be a resident of the state from which he or she is elected.
Why Do They Matter?
The battle between parties is often fiercer during a midterm election than during a presidential election. What is at stake in a midterm is control of the legislature – both houses of Congress. The party that controls the White House always wants majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and the party that does not control the White House can turn the tables by gaining this majority. Without this majority, the president’s legislative agenda has little chance of actually being voted through. Therefore, the president’s power is at stake here as much as the seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
These races also tend to get very heated and very close. While many would assume the president’s party would have a leg up by virtue of controlling the White House, but more often than not, the faded promises of a presidential campaign and the onset of reality after a president has taken office causes popular dissatisfaction to set in, and can mean a turning of the tides. For example, the 2010 midterm elections saw the Democrats lose control of the House of Representatives after two years of the Obama presidency.
While ballot initiatives aren’t unique to midterm elections, they certainly are no less important during this type of election than they are in presidential election years. A ballot initiative is a referendum that can be put on the ballot on election day, assuming enough signatures have been gathered for said initiative. They can range from changes to their state’s constitution to tax increases. It doesn’t need to be stated that these are important issues to a resident of any state, that can impact your personal life. Therefore, it’s worth a trip to the polls to vote on that tax hike that you disagree with, or the ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in your state.
- US midterms: What are they – and why are they so important? – Independent
- The U.S. Midterm Elections and Their Importance – ThoughtCo
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