No more 'meh' this time around.
Democratic voter turnout has been way up this year. Let's put that in a bit of historical context.
The New York Times has a great graphic showing how Democratic primary election turnout has changed between 2014 and 2018. Their analysis found that Democratic turnout is up in at least 123 congressional races. Republicans experienced a similar boost between 2006 and 2010, the year they picked up 63 congressional seats and took control of the House of Representatives.
The news in this last week of June 2018 — packed with controversial Supreme Court decisions and the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy — is in many ways the result of Republican enthusiasm in the 2010 and 2014 midterms. While a lot of Democrats are (probably rightly) feeling good about the energy they've seen so far (a trend that held up on June 27), it only matters if people actually show up in November.
Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cynthia Nixon at Ocasio-Cortez's victory party. Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images.
Midterm elections might not be as sexy as presidential ones, but they're just as important. Let's look at 2014, for example.
According to the United States Elections Project, just 36.7% of eligible voters cast ballots in 2014. People simply weren't excited about it or energized enough to get out and vote. Enthusiasm was so low that Pew Research dubbed it the "'meh' midterm." A lot of people sat the election out, and as a result, Republicans picked up nine Senate seats, giving them total control of Congress.
It also gave them the ability to deny Merrick Garland, Obama's 2016 nominee to the Supreme Court, hearings and a vote on his confirmation. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) kept the vacancy open long enough for Trump to take office a year later and install conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch on the Court, where he'll serve likely for the next 30 years or so.
The Supreme Court has been in the news a lot lately, with a lot of decisions coming down to a single justice.
Recently, the Court issued rulings on the legality of Trump's "Muslim Ban," the right for "crisis pregnancy centers" to trick people into thinking they provide services that they don't, and a question about union dues. Those were all 5-4 decisions with Gorsuch joining the conservative majority each time.
Would people have gotten out to vote in the "'meh' midterm" if they knew exactly what kind of long-term consequences awaited? Maybe. That's just the thing, though: When we vote, we're setting in motion a series of events that we can't ever fully understand at the time. There's no way to know how Garland would have ruled in any specific Supreme Court case (though there's reason to believe he would be significantly more moderate than Gorsuch), and there was no way of knowing at the time of the 2014 election that there would be another open seat on the court just two years later.
Just as Republican enthusiasm in 2014 arguably gave us Justice Gorsuch, Democratic energy this year could drive long-term change.
If Democrats can take back control of the Senate, as Republicans did in 2014, they could force Trump to nominate more moderate judges (and fewer paranormal investigators) to lifetime appointments. They'd be able to serve as a much-needed check on his powers — as the first 18 months of his presidency shows Republicans are unlikely to do.
The United States Supreme Court building. Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images.
The important thing to remember in all of this is that your vote matters in every election.
Some sit out elections as a way to "send a message," but what message is that exactly? There's no way to differentiate between non-voters who sit out elections because they have issues with one candidate or another and those who are simply apathetic to the political system as a whole. To the people in power, it makes no difference.
The same can probably be said for so-called "protest votes," in which someone casts a ballot for a candidate with no chance of winning, such as a fictional character or themselves.
Apathy can't win, and it's why it's so exciting when candidates with bold ideas like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are getting involved in politics and finding success. For some, like Ocasio-Cortez, the right to create a better world means running for Congress. For others, it means voting for candidates who share our values, marching in the streets, or volunteering for campaigns we believe in.
It's simple: Your vote matters in every election. Not sure if you're registered? Pop on over to usa.gov to check. This is an especially good idea given that there's been a recent uptick in states purging registered voters from their rolls on a variety of technicalities or instituting cumbersome new ID requirements. Both those actions are examples of voter suppression — attempts to disenfranchise voters (and it's important to fight back against those efforts as well). If you're not registered, you can figure out how to do it right on that website (each state has different rules and requirements).
Once you've got that all taken care of, the next step is to tell a friend or two about just how important the 2018 election will be.