For the first time in as long as I can remember, the energy and focus on the midterm elections seems to be on par with that of presidential years. These midterms will be historic not just because of the potential of breaking new ground in electing a number of firsts (first black woman governor, first Native American woman in Congress, first Muslim women in Congress) but also because we may finally see meaningful and improved voter turnout, thanks in part to registration drives at places like WeWork, the work of my organization All In Together to register women, and countless other nationwide efforts to register and engage voters. In 2014, the midterm elections saw the lowest voter turnout since World War II. But if early voting numbers are any indication, that could change—in states with early voting, turnout has been double what it was in 2016.
The emphasis on voting this year has largely been fueled by Democrats calling for a referendum on President Trump, but it’s also a referendum on democracy. Americans are waking up to the idea that if we really, truly want a representative democracy, we have to turn out and participate.
Citizens from all kinds of backgrounds are realizing that if you don’t engage, you might wind up with a result you don’t want. Every part of your life is affected by the people who write the laws that dictate how we live every day. When we fail to participate, we may pay a price for that in our personal lives, whether that means changes in your health care, wages, or student debt.
What’s most exciting about the 2018 midterms is that there so many attention-grabbing races that have previously been uncontested. For example, in New York’s 2nd Congressional District, Democrat Liuba Grechen Shirley is running to unseat a 25-year Republican incumbent, Rep. Peter King. A first-time candidate with two young kids at home, she outraised him by roughly $300,000 on a platform that includes gun safety and Medicare for all. That’s just one instance where voters in a district previously thought they didn’t have an alternative—yet here is a 37-year-old woman who has never run for office giving this entrenched politician a serious run for his money.
There are also more races where it’s clear that every single vote matters, especially in local elections. Earlier this year, one competitive seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates ended in a tie and was decided by drawing one of the candidate’s name out of a hat. Literally, one vote would have made a difference.
So, as we approach Election Day, the most important thing you can do tomorrow is to make a plan and ask all your friends and family about their voting plans. Here’s mine: First thing Tuesday morning, I will take my 9-year-old daughter with me to my polling place at our local library. She canvassed with me in 2016, helped me set up lawn signs last year, and knows all the local officials in our town. Going with me makes her feel special and important, and shows her that voting really is a privilege. Then, I’ll drop her off at school (with an “I voted” sticker!) and head to work. What’s yours?
Lauren Leader Chivee, a member at WeWork 120 E. 23rd St., is the co-founder and CEO of the non-partisan women’s civic education and mobilization organization All in Together and the author of Crossing the Thinnest Line.