I’m really excited about talking to you about voting, because this is something a lot of you have told me you have questions about. There’s nothing more powerful in the United States government’s structure than the power of the people to vote!
I’m going to talk about four things:
- How is our government structured? (Social Studies Reminder)
- What are mid-terms and why is voting in the mid-terms important?
- How and when do you register to vote?
- What do you do to prepare for Election Day?
In my last article I did an 8th grade Social Studies review and talked about how our United States government is a three-tiered government – Executive (the president); Judicial (The Supreme Court – and that’s what’s in the news right now as President Trump’s recent nominee gets reviewed by the committee); and Legislative (Congress).
We focused on Judicial last time, and today I’m going to talk to you about the Legislative, because November 6th (2018), we are going to be voting for some of the people who are in the Legislative branch of the government.
How the Legislative Branch of the United States Government is Structured
Congress is divided into two parts: The Senate and the House of Representatives.
Senators are elected for a six-year term, and there are two of them for each of the fifty states, for a total of 100. Both senators represent the entire state.
Members of the House of Representatives are elected for two-year terms, and the number of representatives for each state varies, according to the population of the state. There are currently a total of 435 representatives. Each representative represents a certain district of his or her state, and only the people of that district elect them.
Today I’m specifically talking about the government at the national level, but just an FYI that state governments are generally structured the same way as the federal government, so there are State Senators and State Representatives as well as US Senators and US Representatives.
What are Mid-Term Elections and Why are They Important?
The Mid-Term Elections are held every four years, half-way through the presidential term. Since the House of Representatives serve for two years, every two years we have to vote on them, so all 435 are up for grabs. Roughly 1/3 of the senate seats are also up for election.
Sometime between March and September, there were primary elections, to vote for the person that would be representing the party (Democrat or Republican) in November’s general election.
Currently (2018), we have a Republican president, Donald Trump, and the majority of Congress is also Republican. A president wants to have his own party as the majority in congress, because it makes it more likely that his interests will be voted in.
When mid-terms come, the president campaigns hard for members of his own party to win the seats in the house and senate, and have (or keep) the majority. That usually doesn’t happen though. More often than not, during the mid-terms, the president’s party will lose seats, and that makes it extremely hard for him to be as effective during the second half of his term.
This election, the issues that will be affected are those that President Trump has been talking about – like the border wall, cuts to welfare and social security, tax cuts, and ending DACA – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – which shields deportation for undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children by their parents.
Whether you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent, and are for or against those issues – the important thing is to know that your vote in November will make a very direct impact on the outcome. I found a really cool quick video about mid-term elections here.
How and When Do You Register?
You can register to vote when you turn 18, and you should update your registration anytime you move – even moving a few blocks away can change your district or your voting place – and if you change your name, for example if you get married.
Registering to vote is different in every state. Some states have on-line registration, but you can find out how and where to register in your state on this US Government website. If you don’t remember if you are registered you can always check with your state’s election office. Here’s a website to find it.
You have to be registered in order to vote. Only a few states allow you to register the day of the election. Most states require you to be registered three or four weeks before the election. You can check the deadlines for your state here, but since this year’s mid-term elections are November 6th, it’s a good idea to go ahead and put this on your to-do list today!
What to Do to Prepare for Election Day
The main thing you want to do before Election Day is find out who and what you’ll be voting for! This November you’ll definitely be voting for a US Representative, and maybe for a US Senator as well, so you should find out who is running and what they believe in. You don’t have to vote along party lines, in other words, just because you are registered as a Democrat doesn’t mean you can’t vote for a Republican or Independent, and vice versa.
You have probably seen a lot of signs in yards and ads for those who are running, but you can also check with your election office to find out about getting a sample ballot. I receive a sample ballot in the mail, and I always review it before I go vote.
You also need to know where you are supposed to vote. When you register, they will let you know where your voting place is. Voting takes place in all kinds of places, like libraries, churches, and schools.
You can also vote early if it’s more convenient for you. The early voting places are also listed and often advertised.
Just pay attention to deadlines, and make an effort to find out what is going to be on the ballot. It’s sometimes not just people running for office, but issues that you’ll need to decide about. You’ll want to be an informed voter!
Find your representative
Video about mid-term elections
Definitions you need to understand
Great websites with tons of information about your government and voting
How to vote
Video about checking your registration
Video about voting for the first time
Lots of information about voting and issues
Voter Registration Deadlines
Find your state election office