Everything You Need to Know About Voting in the Midterms

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I have a silly confession to make: Every Election Day, I wake up excited about life. I don’t care if it sounds dorky. I love voting! It’s easy to do, and it makes me feel like I have a voice in how my city, state, and country are run. And yes, I like getting the free sticker, too.

Election nights aren’t always as joyful—I cried hard on election night in 2016. But on the bright side, that disappointment inspired me to pay more attention to local politics. I joined a group of feminist activists that are working hard to support local women who are running for office. So far, I haven’t been brave enough to go door-to-door and talk about my favorite candidates (this is also known as “canvassing”). I did use an online tool to do some text-banking though, and I felt like I was really helping to get information out to voters.

This year’s Election Day is on Tuesday, November 6—and it’s a big one. I vote in every election, but this year, voting in the midterms feel especially important.

What Exactly Are the Midterms? And Why Do They Matter?

A “midterm” election—like the election coming up on Tuesday—is one that’s held in the middle of a president’s four-year term. Midterm elections typically have lower turnout than presidential elections, which means each individual vote has a much bigger impact.

Midterms were created as one of the checks on a president’s power. They give voters a chance to either support the current president’s political party or strengthen the opposition. Here’s what that means in 2018: If Democrats do well in Tuesday’s election and win enough seats in Congress, they can limit the ability of the Trump administration and the Republicans to roll out new policies. If Democratic turnout is low and the Republicans do well, they and the Trump administration will have more power than ever.

Who Is Up For Election?

At the national level, voters will choose every member of the House of Representatives. (Representatives are elected for two-year terms.) About a third of U.S. Senators are also up for re-election. (A senator’s term lasts six years.) That means this election could bring big changes to Congress, depending on how people vote.

At the state level, 36 states are voting for governor. Some will also be voting on new members of the state legislature (each state’s own version of Congress), as well as local offices like judges and mayors. Voters will also weigh in on individual ballot measures and propositions—and some of these are a big deal. For example, next week, voters in Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin will decide whether or not cannabis use should be legal in their state.

What’s On the Ballot?

If you’re registered to vote, you should have received a sample ballot in the mail. (You’ve probably also received lots of junk mail trying to convince you to vote for or against certain people and propositions.) No ballot?  Make sure you’re registered to vote and that your address is correct. Resistbot makes this really easy. Text “vote” to 50409 to check your registration.

If you have questions about what’s on the ballot where you live, your local election office’s website is a great place to start. It will have a sample ballot, and help you find your polling place so you go to the right place on Election Day. To find it, start here and select your state.

Who Should I Vote For?

USA.gov has some good tips on determining who deserves your vote. Before voting in the midterms, t’s important to research a candidate’s positions on the issues and be aware of how speeches and political ads can distort the truth. I also find it helpful to look at who else supports each candidate or ballot measure. If people, organizations, newspapers, and websites that you trust have made public endorsements, their recommendations can help steer you toward candidates that may represent your values. This is especially helpful if you don’t have time to do a lot of pre-election research yourself. For example, if you care about the environment, you might refer to the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund’s list of endorsements and vote for those people. You can also do the same thing in reverse. If you support stronger gun laws, you might check who the NRA is endorsing and vote for that person’s opponent.

How Else Can I Help?

If you want to throw your support behind a particular candidate or political party, contact them about volunteering—right up until the election. There are tons of ways you can help, including going door-to-door encouraging people to vote, calling or texting potential voters from home using online tools, or donating to individual campaigns or your chosen political party. (The great thing about online options and donations are that you can help candidates you’re passionate about who might be running in places far from where you live—and you can even help influence tight toss-up races where your political party really needs your support.)

If you want to make a few bucks on Election Day and get a close-up view of the political process, apply to become a poll worker. You can do this through your local election website. Find it here.

The most important thing you can do on Tuesday is VOTE. Is it on your calendar? Schedule yourself a reminder. Plan ahead! Think about whether you’ll go before, after, or during the work day, school, or whatever it is you do on Tuesdays. Be sure you know where your polling place is and that you can get there during the hours that they’re open. To make the voting process as smooth as possible, fill out your sample ballot in advance and bring it with you.

The second most important thing you can do on Tuesday is encourage your friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family members to vote. Text them the day before or morning of the election. If you know someone who can’t get to the polls on their own, offer to drive them. Especially in midterm elections where voter turnout is so low, every extra person you get to the polls matters.

If anyone tries to tell you that their vote doesn’t matter, remind them about the coin-toss that decided an election in Virginia last year because two delegates had the exact same number of votes. If even ONE more person had voted, no coin toss would’ve been necessary—their candidate would’ve won. Your vote could be the one that makes the difference.

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