The 2022 midterm elections take place in the middle of the presidential term, hence the name “midterms,” so you won’t be seeing candidates for president and vice president on your ballot this November. However, there’s a host of other important federal, state and local races taking place across the country. In today’s Explainer, we review the races and consider what’s at stake for democracy.
What’s at stake?
435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives
For almost a hundred years, there have been 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives (although some argue it’s time to expand the House once again). Since these members of Congress serve two-year terms, all 435 are up for election this November. The 435 seats are divided among the 50 states based on population. Next year, there will be six states that are represented by only one member of the House; on the other end of the spectrum, 52 House members will represent California. The seats of non-voting congressional delegates from Washington, D.C. and four of the five U.S. territories are also up for election. Find all the races here.
There’s an added catch this year — your congressional district may have changed because of redistricting. Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau releases its census results capturing how the nation’s population (and its distribution across states) has changed over the past decade. Then, congressional seats are reapportioned based on those population changes, with some states gaining or losing House seats. The Washington Post created a tool to see how you may have been impacted by the redrawn political districts.
35 seats in the U.S. Senate
While the House was designed to be more dynamic, shifting its composition every two years, the U.S. Senate was created as a more deliberative body (which is ironic, however, given its lack of deliberation). Consequently, senators serve six-year terms that rotate; one-third of the chamber’s 100 seats are up for reelection every two years to give the institution stability. This November, there are 34 seats up for their regularly scheduled elections, plus one special election due to Sen. Jim Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) retirement.
(Here’s an odd technicality: California voters, don’t be surprised if you see Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) in two races on the ballot this fall. First, he is in a special election to complete the final few weeks of Vice President Kamala Harris’ term that he was appointed to in 2020. Second, Padilla is in a regular election to serve in the seat for the next six years.)
According to Ballotpedia, the Senate seats up for election this year include 14 held by Democrats and 21 held by Republicans. 2022 will determine whether Democrats can hold onto their razor-thin majority in Congress for the rest of President Joe Biden’s first term. Find all the races here.
Governors veto legislation, implement laws and serve as the head executive of states. This year, 36 gubernatorial seats are up for election and candidates, many endorsed by former President Donald Trump, are running on election subversion platforms. This is a big problem given that governors play a central role in the certification of election results. Three U.S. territories — Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands — are also holding gubernatorial elections this year. Find all the races here.
27 secretary of state seats
There are secretaries of state in all states except Alaska, Hawaii and Utah. In 37 states, this individual is either elected or appointed and acts as the chief elections official. Secretaries of state also have non-election related responsibilities that can include registering corporations or charities, publishing session laws and votes, maintaining state archives, issuing land permits and more. It’s an important, but often overlooked, position. That is changing though: Across the country, “Big Lie” election deniers are running for the office on platforms undermining democracy. Find all the races here.
30 attorney general seats
The state’s chief legal officer is a powerful position, but attorneys general take very different routes: Some sue other states to overturn election results while others shut down harmful pharmaceutical companies, challenge fossil fuel polluters and protect against voter intimidation. 30 states and two U.S. territories will hold elections for attorneys general this fall. Find all the races here.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of 2022 races — other statewide elected offices include the lieutenant governor, auditor, controller and/or treasurer and more.
Control of state legislatures
Each state has a legislature divided into two chambers, typically a lower House or Assembly chamber and an upper Senate chamber. The exception is Nebraska, the only state with a unicameral (single-chamber) legislature. This November, 88 of the country’s 99 state legislative chambers will hold elections.
The bulk of laws impacting everyday life are passed by state lawmakers. Unfortunately, Democrats have not been as committed to building state power in the same way as Republicans, and now our democracy is suffering because of it. Republicans overwhelmingly control state legislative chambers. Abortion bans, voting restrictions and hateful anti-LGBTQ laws aren’t coming from Congress, but from state legislatures. These districts are also impacted by redistricting. Find all the races here.
Don’t ignore down-ballot or under-the-radar races.
When voters vote directly on policy changes, this is called a ballot measure (or a ballot initiative, voter initiative or proposition). It’s an important element of direct democracy that is utilized to pursue both parties’ policy goals. However, in the face of voters supporting progressive measures in recent years, Republican lawmakers have now set their sights on weakening this process. As of June 8, 104 statewide ballot measures had been certified in 34 states. Each state has its own set of requirements and deadlines, but a measure must qualify for the ballot by obtaining a certain number of voter signatures; consequently, more measures may be certified before the general election (make sure to check back here). In the meantime, read about the already-confirmed ballot measures that will affect democracy and voting.
Did you know that many state judges are elected? While some judges are appointed by the governor or legislature, more than 30 states have elections for state Supreme Court seats this year, including where partisan control of the court could flip. There are hundreds more elections (including retention elections) for state judicial positions. Here you can find data on state Supreme Court races, appellate court races and trial court races in the country’s 100 most populous cities.
Relatedly, citizens also have the power to determine who runs much of our criminal legal system, electing the individuals who make life-altering decisions. This year, many district attorneys and sheriffs are also on the ballot. Learn more here.
Beyond secretaries of state and state boards of elections, election administration varies immensely at the local level. Election administrators, with assorted titles and structures, run jurisdictions that range from small New England towns to Los Angeles County with over 5.6 million registered voters. These individuals run our elections and hold the keys to our democracy. Learn more here.
Midterms often swing against the president’s party.
Since the end of World War II, and more consistently since 1994, the president’s party almost always loses the national U.S. House popular vote in midterm elections. This often translates into lost House seats (the same pattern doesn’t hold quite as well in the U.S. Senate). There are several political science explanations of this phenomenon, largely landing on the concept of “presidential penalty:” No matter how well the country is doing, the party that occupies the White House gets punished, to differing extents.
Scholars also contribute the political shifts to who votes (and who doesn’t) as turnout plummets in midterm years compared to presidential years. Midterm election turnout is consistently lower than presidential elections, often by around 20 percentage points. Voters can be energized though — turnout in the 2018 midterms jumped to almost 50% from an abysmal 36.7% in 2014.
Primary elections are already well underway and the midterm elections will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. In the meantime, check your voter registration status. And, for more candidate-specific information as the election cycle advances, review Bolts’ “What’s on the Ballot?” reference page.
If there’s a year to equip yourself with knowledge of your ballot, this is it. From your redrawn congressional district (which could change before 2024) to the local official who administers elections in your town or county, democracy hangs in the balance in every race in every state.