Tuesday, January 3, 2017

So what exactly are the “midterm elections,” anyway?

"The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six years, and each Senator shall have one vote."

Article 1, Section 3, Paragraph 1 of the Constitution (later changed by the Seventeenth Amendment from "chosen by the Legislature thereof" to "elected by the people thereof")

The Constitutional Convention, 1787

The elections for the president of the United States of America have always gotten more attention than any other in this country. This is not surprising, given that the presidency is the only office that the entire country can vote on; and as Alexander Hamilton once said, any individual serving as the president, "from the entire circumstance of his being alone, [is] more narrowly watched and more readily suspected" (Source: Federalist No. 70, with an alternate version saying "from the very circumstance of his being alone"). Your typical member of Congress can put the blame for their own actions on someone else, in other words - usually their fellow members of Congress - more easily than the president can, because they are not watched as closely as a single powerful individual (like the president) is. It is thus natural that the elections for the presidency (held every four years) would be watched more closely than any other elections.

Alexander Hamilton

Two-year term for the House of Representatives

Nonetheless, the elections for the United States Congress are still of importance to this country - as is testified by the part of the Constitution about the powers of the Congress (Article 1, Section 8, to be specific; which has 18 clauses in it); so these elections are held more frequently than the elections for the presidency are. The Constitution actually specifies a shorter term of two years for the members of the House of Representatives at the national level. This means that for this house of Congress, in practical terms, the whole lot of them are up for re-election every two years; and not just every four years (as it is for the presidency). I should note that half of these elections for Congress are held simultaneously with the presidential elections, with the ballot being the same one used to vote for the president. The other half of them are held at the midway point between the two presidential elections (hence the popular name that they have of the "midterm elections," since they're in the middle of the four-year term of the president). The next one is in this November; so if you do want a say in who your Congressman or Congresswoman is, November will be your next chance to get it.

Constitution of the United States of America

Why Senate elections are held every two years, when the terms are for six years

Many of the states will also have one of their United States Senators up for re-election - two-thirds of them, to be precise - but I should make clear that one-third of the states actually will not have that. I should explain why this is; since unknown to many people, the Constitution actually says explicitly that this should be the case. Specifically, the Constitution says that all Senators will serve longer terms of six years; and so with the Congressional elections being held only every two years, only one-third of them are up for re-election at any one time. (For the details of this, see Article 1, Section 3, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution.) With the two Senators serving in each state, this means that in two out of every three Congressional elections that are held, a particular state will have exactly one of their Senators up for re-election. The third time around, though, they will have both of their Senators serving partway through their terms, and thus ineligible to be voted out at that time. Consequently, neither of them will be up for re-election at that time.

Jeff Flake, the only Senator from my home state of Arizona who is up for re-election in 2018

John McCain, the other Senator from my home state of Arizona, who will have four years left in his term in 2018

Everyone has a Congressional election every two years

My home state of Arizona is actually among those two-thirds of states with a U. S. Senate election in 2018; as the seat of Senator Jeff Flake goes up for re-election. If you're not sure whether your state has a U. S. Senate election or not, this information can be found here if you are curious. All of you in America, though, have your district's member of the national House of Representatives up for re-election in November; since this happens to the whole lot of them every two years without exception. The Constitution grants an enormous amount of power to Congress over all of our daily lives; as the part of the Constitution about the powers of the Congress makes clear (in Article 1, Section 8; to be specific; which has 18 clauses in it). Thus, if I might be permitted an editorial comment, we need to make sure this power is wielded well, so that we might prevent it from being abused as much as we can.

Capitol Dome, at the building of the United States Congress

The importance of midterm elections

Thus, if you want a say in who will be representing your area in Washington for the next round of Congressional terms, you might consider voting in the midterm elections in November. Many of you will also have state and local candidates running for re-election in November; and if this is the case for you, you may well have the opportunity to have a say in things closer to home for you. Arizona, for example, has a governor's term expiring in November; and 35 other states also have elections for governor at that time (with the list of states being found here). Thus, some of you will have a say in state and local politics at this time, as well as the national ones (depending on where you live).

Another picture of Capitol Dome

Voter registration deadlines

Some of you may have to act even sooner than that, I should mention; if you haven't registered to vote in your area yet. Many of the states out there have voter registration deadlines, for example; which mean that unless you registered by a certain time before the election, you can't vote in the midterm elections, or any other elections in your area. If this is the case, please don't let the deadline pass you by if you want to vote - you might not get the chance to register later. If you do want to vote, I recommend finding out what the deadline is in your area (through Googling or other means); which could ensure that you will make it in time to vote.

The Great Seal of the United States, with the Latin words "E Pluribus Unum" (meaning "Out of Many, One")

Invitation to participate

So with this informal civics lesson concluded, I invite all fellow Americans that want to participate in this process to do so in November. If you wish to invite your friends to do the same, feel free to direct them to this website (or another like it); so that they might be aware of their civic rights.

Some quotes from the Constitution about elections:

"The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several States ... " - Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 1 of the Constitution

"The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years, and each Senator shall have one vote." - Seventeenth Amendment (ratified 1913), Section 1

"Immediately after they [the Senators] shall be assembled in consequence of the first election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three classes. The seats of the Senators of the first class shall be vacated at the expiration of the second year, of the second class at the expiration of the fourth year, and of the third class at the expiration of the sixth year, so that one-third may be chosen every second year ... " - Article 1, Section 3, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution

Article 1, Section 8 (about the various powers of Congress) is too long to be quoted in its entirety here in this particular blog post. I quote the full text of it in this other blog post instead.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Does my state have a U. S. Senator up for re-election in 2018?

When does my state next have its governor up for re-election?

And most importantly, how do I register to vote?

The Constitution

Influences on the Constitution

Hobbes and Locke: Anarchy, social contract theory, and unalienable rights
Public and private property: When can you take away someone's private property as taxes?
Polybius: A commentator on the "mixed constitution" of the Roman Republic
Magna Carta (1215): The creation of Parliament, and the limits upon the power of the King
Sir Edward Coke: The Petition of Right (1628) and other important writings
Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776): Another influence on the United States Bill of Rights
The Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776): Philosophically important
Representative government: The advantages of a republic over a direct democracy
Baron de Montesquieu: Theory of separation of powers and checks & balances

The Constitution itself, and the story behind it

Convention at Philadelphia: The writing of the Constitution (1787)
States' rights: The conflict between the "several states" and the federal government
The Congress: Its power to make laws, and the president's power to veto them (in some cases)
Congress versus the president: Five limits on presidential power (besides impeachment)
Powers of Congress: A few reasons why the Congressional elections are so important
Elected officials: A few ways that the Constitution keeps our politicians under control
Frequency of elections: So how long do all of these people serve, anyway?
Representation: So who decides how many votes each state gets?
Slavery: The complicated legacy of the "Three-Fifths Clause"
The presidency: Making decisions for the police, military, and foreign diplomacy
Impeachment and removal: The most dramatic checks upon the power of presidents
The courts: "Good behaviour," some important judicial powers, and how they're appointed
Miscellaneous: Amendment process, "supreme law of the land," and some closing remarks

Debates over the Constitution, then and since

Debates over ratification: Whether to adopt the Constitution in the first place
The "Federalist Papers": Frequently asked questions about them, and why they're important
Who is "Publius"?: The secret pen name of the men who wrote the Federalist Papers
Debates over checks & balances: Do they actually conflict with separation of powers?
The Bill of Rights: Important in the debates over ratification (adopted 1791)
The First Amendment: Debates over freedom of religion, and public "establishment" of religion
The First Amendment: Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and peaceable assemblies
The Second Amendment: Constitutional debates on the people's right to bear arms
Rights to fair trial: Judicial restraints on the power of the police and the president
Rights of the accused: The balance between individual protections and criminal justice
Congressional pay: The amendment that never made it into the Bill of Rights
Abolishing slavery: The things that led up to the famous antislavery amendment
Backup plans: Vacancy, disability, and presidential elections without a clear majority
Voting rights: Some important amendments about who is allowed to vote in this country

Epilogue: Some thoughts about civics education

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