What Are Midterm Elections?

Every four years in the United States, people take to the polls to vote in the most important election in our country: The presidential election. But as important as the presidential election is, it isn’t the only thing Americans should be voting for. Another extremely important election day happens during the midterm elections, which occur two years after the president has taken office.

A voter arrives to cast her ballot at a polling center in Stamford, Connecticut.

Midterm elections are extremely important. | John Moore/Getty Images

What are the midterm elections?

The midterm elections occur in the middle of the president’s term (hence their name). They are a way for those in the U.S. to show whether or not they’re happy with the job the president has done. In addition to the executive branch (the president), the government also has both a judicial branch (the Supreme Court) and a legislative branch (Congress). The midterm elections largely focus on Congress.

Many representatives in Congress are up for re-election during the midterms. This is the public’s way of deciding if they’re happy with the president’s progress. If they’re not happy with it, they may vote the opposite of the president’s party. If they’re happy with the job being done, they may vote in favor of the president’s party. Depending on which majority rules the House and Senate, people will usually sway in favor of the president if they’re satisfied, and out of favor if they’re not.

People can shift power if they’re unsatisfied with the president

The midterms can literally shift power. That’s why they’re so important. If the president’s party loses power, meaning more of those in the opposite party get elected, it prevents the president from fairly passing all the legislation he’d like. When people are unhappy with the way the country is being run, they’ll vote to put the opposing party in power, which would then essentially limit the president’s power. This is how the public keeps the government in check; that’s why it’s incredibly important to become aware of the issues you’re passionate about and get out and vote. It may not be the presidential election, but in many ways, it’s just as important.

The midterm elections stretch beyond the federal government

While the congressional elections are a major part of the midterms, they’re not the only part. Depending on your state, you could be deciding on your new governor, too. Plus, smaller elections, such as your town’s council, happen during midterms. And it’s important not to overlook those elections, despite that you may think they don’t matter as much. You have a voice in your town the same way you have a voice in the country, and the laws passed in your town should matter to you as well.

Voting is the best way for Americans to voice how they feel about the current state of the country, and midterms are a great opportunity to do that. The midterm elections allow you to push the legislative branch in one direction or the other, keep a check on the president, and voice your vote for your state and local government. It’s a right on which every American citizen should act.

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