Teen Vogue, 28 October 2022.: ‘What Are Midterm Elections: Why the 2022 Midterms Matter’ By Marilyn La Jeunesse.
Unlike state and local elections that happen every year, congressional midterm elections occur halfway through a president’s term and do not take place during general election years. For reference, the last midterm election occurred in 2018 during Donald Trump’s second year as president. There was no midterm election in 2020 as it was a general election year.
As 2022 is officially the halfway point in Joe Biden’s presidency, midterm elections will be held nationwide on November 8. Although voter turnout is historically lower than in general elections, midterms are just as important and can have a significant impact on the way the United States government works. It can be tough to single out the importance of a midterm election, with the flurry of activity that often surrounds presidential elections. But we put together an explainer to help demystify midterm elections and Congress’s impact on the country’s political climate.
What is Congress?
First thing’s first, let’s get the basics out of the way. Congress is made up of two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Collectively, these groups of people are essential in solidifying legislation, as both the House and the Senate have to pass a bill before it becomes law. Each state has representatives in these two groups.
There are a few requirements for House of Representatives candidates. Those running must be at least 25 years old, a citizen of the United States for seven years or more, and they must live in the state they represent. House terms are two years, and candidates can serve up to six terms.
Senate candidates have a different set of requirements. They must be at least 30 years old, a citizen of the United States for nine years or more, and a citizen of the state they represent. A senator’s term is a bit longer than a representative’s at six years. But there’s a twist: Every two years, one-third of the Senate has to go up for re-election every two years. This kind of requirement is put into place so that the Senate does not become stagnant and better reflects the country’s political state. A senator can serve two terms.
Midterm elections affect state representation in Congress. During this time, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and a third of Senate seats are up for grabs. Winners of midterm elections are determined by popular vote, as opposed to the electoral college system that is used to elect the president.
In the Senate, there are 34 seats on the line, with 14 Democrats up for reelection. Currently, Republicans hold 50 seats, meaning Democrats will need to maintain their current number of seats, 48, plus win three more to attain an outright majority. (There are currently two Independent Senators who caucus with the Democrats, and Vice President Kamala Harris can serve as a tie-breaking vote).
On the state level, there will be 36 governorships and 30 state attorney general offices on ballots. Of the 36 governorships, 20 of them are currently occupied by Republicans. Although these state positions might seem less important than congressional seats, winning a majority in these areas would allow Democrats to pursue liberal legislation outside of Washington, D.C. In particular, they’re vitally important to the protection of abortion rights, especially as the Supreme Court weighs the reversal of Roe v. Wade in their current term.
Why are midterm elections important?
Midterm elections are important because they help determine power in Congress. As stated in the Constitution, Congress is a legislative body that has the authority to make laws. As a bill only becomes law with approval from both the House and the Senate, the political party with the majority in both chambers of Congress is more likely to have their legislation passed. This is especially important when it comes to bills that impact a lot of people, like those that would protect data privacy or secure voting rights.
Midterm elections are important because they provide voters with the opportunity to change the party in power. Fifty-one seats are required for a political party to have control in the Senate, while 218 are needed to achieve a majority in the House. There are currently 11,831 bills and resolutions before Congress. In the 117th Congress, there have been 309 bills and joint resolutions that have become laws with a Democratic majority.
How do midterm elections affect the presidency?
The midterm election vote plays an important role in our government’s checks and balances. This focus is vital, as political power is not meant be centered on one party or person. This in mind, depending on how the vote plays out, Congress can provide support for the bills and legislations proposed by the president, or a counterbalance. For example, if the congress majority leans toward the same party as the president, it can be quicker to pass laws. While congressional and presidential elections are separate and different, they certainly impact the collective future government.
How are midterms relevant in the post-Trump era?
Historically, the president’s party often loses House seats during midterms. If this is the case, the GOP could find themselves back in control of the House, lending favor to the legislation they wish to proceed. A divided Congress, in which one party is in control of the House and another in the Senate would hinder legislation on hotly debated topics like immigration, healthcare, and more. It would also hinder efforts by Democratic lawmakers to push for accountability and investigation into the 2021 Capitol Riots, which led to more than 700 arrests and counting. But given the slim balance of power in the Senate, Democrats also risk a total wipeout, where they’d lose control of both chambers.
Republicans have threatened to subject the Biden White House to investigations, should they win a majority during this midterm election, which could affect Biden’s 2024 campaign, should he follow through on his plans to run for reelection.
Another important power within Congress is the ability to confirm a president’s Supreme Court nominee. The confirmation of both Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett by a Republican-controlled Senate speak to the importance of voting in midterm elections. Kavanaugh was confirmed despite facing allegations of sexual misconduct, and Barrett’s confirmation was rushed through just weeks before the 2020 election. That’s why it’s important for Democrats to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer well before the midterms. Breyer is one of just three progressive justices currently sitting on the bench, so replacing him will still leave conservatives with a 6-3 advantage. But it will prevent Republicans from confirming another conservative justice should they win control of the Senate in November.
Given the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, which is deciding a case that could result in Roe v. Wade being overturned later this year, the gubernatorial elections are particularly important for protecting abortion rights at the state level. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, midterm elections are important for determining mask and vaccine mandates and state-of-emergency orders. While Biden has say over mandates for anything under the federal government’s jurisdiction, governors and local lawmakers have say over state- and city-wide orders, affecting people’s day-to-day more significantly than at the federal level. At the local level, school board races will remain contentious, with communities split over book bans and how to teach students about race and racism.
This midterm election is also seeing the effects of the 2020 redistricting cycle, a process which happens every 10 years after new census data is collected. During that process, local and congressional districts were redrawn. Barring successful court challenges, the new districts cannot be changed again until 2030.
Politicians in power often use redistricting as an opportunity to “gerrymander,” or draw political boundaries that give one party an advantage over the other. In 2011, Republicans used their control over state and local offices to gerrymander districts that helped them keep power in the House for nearly 10 years.
Ultimately, the question looming over the 2022 midterm elections is whether Democrats can maintain control or if Republicans will take control of the House or Senate, blocking Democratic legislation for years to come. So mark your calendars for November 8, and get ready to exercise your constitutional right to vote.
Editor’s note: This article was first published in 2018. It was updated to include information about the 2022 midterms.