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Explaining the U.S. Midterms Posted by on Nov 8, 2018 in Culture, News

Every two years, on the first Tuesday following November 1st, elections are held in all 50 of the United States. This is when citizens of those states decide who will serve in the US House of Representatives. They also vote for other candidates and on various state matters and proposals affecting the electorate. Since every state has its own laws and statutes, the elections are different for every state. The one certainty is that citizens will be voting for their representative in the US Congress.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay, CCO

Congress is the name given to two bodies of government known as the Legislative Branch. It is comprised of the US Senate and the House of Representatives. There are 435 seats in the US House of Representatives. The number of representatives allotted for each state is determined by that state’s population. A state like California, for example, has fifty-three representatives, whereas my smaller populated state of New Hampshire has two. Each state is guaranteed at least one congressman and two senators.

US presidents are elected for four-year terms and are allowed by law to serve no more than eight years in total. Since national elections for president are held every four years, the elections which are conducted two years following those national elections are called midterms. They come in the middle of that president’s four-year term.

Midterms are generally seen as a chance for Americans to review the record of the previous two years. If voters like what they have seen from the government, there is little change. If they don’t like the way the government is doing its job then change is coming, and some members of Congress will be replaced.

Making Changes

This year, as expected, there was plenty of change. Earlier in the year, some veteran members of Congress had announced that they would not seek reelection. This happens in every election cycle, but there were significantly more this year, especially among some powerful members. There were also some members who lost primary campaigns, thereby assuring that new members would be elected.

There were also 35 seats in the US Senate contested this year. Senators are elected to six-year terms, so voters never can make sweeping changes to the Senate in any single year. Still, the balance of power between Republicans and Democrats, the two major parties in the country, is so slim that any shift to one side over the other can be very significant. This was certainly evident with Tuesday’s election.

In the election of 2016, Republicans won control of both the House and the Senate. Since they also won the White House, known as the Executive Branch of government, this was a rare example of one party dominating the US government. American voters historically spread the responsibilities of running the country between the two major parties. This is known as the system of checks and balances, with one side able to curtail the power of the other. But, with a majority in place, Republicans were able to also appoint many judges to courts across the country, thus affecting the makeup of the third element of US government, the Judicial Branch.

The 2018 Midterms

In Tuesday’s midterms, US voters seemed to reaffirm their preference for a more balanced system of government. Democrats gained control of the House while Republicans gained some seats in the Senate. Democrats also took back some state governor seats and made gains in many state legislatures.

Most significantly, there were more women seeking public office than ever before. There are currently 84 women serving in the US House, but this year there were 239 women competing for House seats. While some results are, as of this writing, too close to call, it is certain that at least 100 women will be serving in the House, both Republican and Democrat, when the new Congress convenes in January of 2019. While a disproportionate number of men will continue to be in the highest positions of power in the US government, there is certainly progress in altering the gender imbalance.

What this means is that the Republican agenda in the White House will be more difficult to achieve without the assistance of the Democrats, and the White House will be under greater scrutiny. The last few weeks of the Republican-run government which was elected in 2016 will be interesting to watch. The so-called lame-duck Congress may try to force some last-minute bills through for the President’s signature before they lose complete control.

Whatever the next two years brings, remember the words of humorist Will Rogers who said:

“Congress is so strange; a man gets up to speak and says nothing, nobody listens, and then everybody disagrees.”

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