Midterm Elections 101: Small and Big Ways to Help Make History
08.13.18

A date once explained to me why he likes sports: “It’s all a story,” he said. “If you look at the players like characters, you’ll start rooting for them.” He failed to sell me on sports; I’m still more likely to offer to pick up your family at LAX in rush hour than ask if we can change the channel to ESPN. But when I started reading about the women running in the 2018 midterm elections, I began to understand where he was coming from.

These women make up what pundits are calling the “pink wave” — a reference to the record numbers of women candidates running in local, state and federal elections this year. In 2018, 476 of the candidates running for U.S. House seats are women (breaking the previous record of 298 in 2012); 54 women are running for U.S. Senate seats (up from 40 in 2016), and 62 are running for gubernatorial seats (up from 34 in 1998). Women currently represent only 20 percent of elected officials in Congress and 25.4 percent of positions in state legislatures, and this year’s influx of women candidates could change that.

This new era of candidates are refreshingly young and diverse. There is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old Democrat who ousted a ten-term Congressman in her Bronx-Queens district primary and could become the youngest woman ever elected to the House. There is Stacey Abrams, a Democrat from Georgia who could become the first black woman to be elected governor. There is Katie Hill, the California Democrat who was featured in a Vice documentary for running what she calls the “most millennial campaign ever” and identifies as bisexual. There is Christine Hallquist, an openly trans woman who is the frontrunner in Vermont’s upcoming Democratic primary. There is Rashida Tlaib who, if elected to the U.S. House, would be the first Muslim woman in Congress.

They’re also championing policies like women’s reproductive rights, gun safety and criminal justice reform. These are issues—and players—I can get behind, and I’ll be cheering my team all the way to the midterms.

Debra Cleaver, founder and CEO of Vote.org, says the midterms are much more important than the presidential election: “Between local, statewide and federal elections, 80,000 people will be elected to office this year. And only 40,000 people were elected in 2016. So I think you could make the argument that this election is literally twice as important.”

To that end, if “get involved in politics” has been on your to-do list for years now, or if you want to help a historic wave of refreshing candidates sweep the midterms, there’s no better time to jump in than right now. With the help of some experts, I’ve rounded up a list of the best ways to support your favorites candidates below. Whether you’re totally slammed and only have five minutes to spare or you’re ready to burn your bra and join the revolution, there’s something for everyone.

If You Want to Do the Bare Minimum

Register to vote, then actually do it.
First of all, make sure you’re registered. An easy way to check is to visit Vote.org. If you find out you aren’t registered, you can do that here.

Then, make a plan for the day of the election. Write it on your calendar. Make plans to go with someone else — a co-worker, a partner, a friend — so you can hold each other accountable. Oh, and don’t forget to find out where your polling place is and what its hours are by checking out your state’s Secretary of State website.

For extra credit, try to get one person who wasn’t planning on voting to the polls. “If everyone gets one extra person to vote, that doubles turnout,” Cleaver says. “If we each commit to one, that’s a pretty high impact.”

Research what’s on the ballot.

There’s no way around it: Politics is complicated. During the 2016 election, the number of ballot measures and candidates in California was dizzying. I wished I could beam myself back to my fifth grade field trip to the state capitol so I wouldn’t have to admit I needed a refresh on the basics.

Luckily, resources like Ballotpedia and BallotReady exist to provide basic, nonpartisan information. Vox also has a helpful 2018 midterms guide. During the 2016 cycle, my friends and I started a shared Google Doc where we could crowdsource notes on what we had learned when referencing sites like these. Everyone researched a few ballot measures and a candidate, read endorsements from local papers and summarized their findings in the doc.

Side note: When you’re researching, don’t gloss over the local elections — they’re just as important as the flashier federal races. Election schedules and practices can vary widely from state to state: It’s important to be aware, for example, that New York has two primary election dates. Plus, state and municipal lawmakers can have a more direct impact on your day-to-day, since they make decisions on issues like road work and trash pickup.

“Find out what your city council looks like,” says Alexandra De Luca, press secretary at Emily’s List. “Does it look like your community? If not, look at the candidates who are trying to change that.”

If You Want to Help, But Don’t Want to Leave the House

Talk about the election online.

We all know those Facebook friends who constantly post about politics (I’ve personally started tuning them out). But when someone who doesn’t always have an opinion posts something about politics, I pay attention. If you don’t normally talk about the fact that you’re voting or that you’ve researched and support a candidate, doing so now could help drive turnout — both generally or for a specific candidate. Try reaching out to a candidate’s campaign staff to ask for photos of her in action, then write a Facebook post or Instagram story about why you like her.

“People have actual FOMO about everything in life, and if you make it seem like everyone’s going to be voting, they’ll go vote too,” Cleaver says. “It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we say we’re expecting record turnout, it increases the likelihood that people will vote.”

Put your money where your mouth is.

“More than anything, women who are running need money,” says Amanda Litman, co-founder of Run for Something and author of the eponymous book. Research shows that women running for office raise less money than men, even though fundraising is one of the most important factors. So donating money, while it might feel like like a cop-out, actually does have a huge impact. And you don’t have to be rich to do it.

“Being a donor doesn’t mean you have to give hundreds of thousands of dollars,” says Erica Kwiatkowski, campaign manager for Katie Porter. “Even $5 a month could pay for water bottles for the people who are canvassing. Every dollar counts.”

If you don’t have time to choose a candidate, try donating to an organization like She Should Run, Emily’s List or Run for Something, which all help support campaigns run by women.

Put your texting skills to work.

If phone banking or canvassing sound scary or foreign to you, volunteer to text constituents on behalf of a candidate. If you let a campaign know you want to do this, they’ll train you on what to say just like they would with phone banking or canvassing. Go to your favorite candidate’s website, find the “get involved” section and shoot them a note saying you want to be a texter.

If You’re Ready to Roll Up Your Sleeves

Ask your company to make voting day a company holiday.

Most people don’t vote because they can’t get time off work, they were too busy or they forgot. You know what would annihilate those excuses, at least for those in your immediate vicinity? Lobbying your company to make election day a company holiday. Make this your pet project and you could end up single-handedly increasing voter turnout by roughly the number of people in your office.

Make phone calls, knock on doors, or canvass on behalf of a candidate.

Discussing politics with perfect strangers might sound scary, but the campaign you’re volunteering for will train you on what to say, where to go, and who to call. Plus, Litman points out, “Even if you don’t know the candidate’s life story, or their policy, most voters don’t, either.” She says it’s perfectly valid to mention who’s endorsed the candidate, or to say you trust them to represent you fairly. “You don’t need a policy background in order to care. It’s not a requirement for voting.”

The jury’s out on whether traditional campaign efforts change minds. But campaigning still helps get out the vote and raise awareness. Hearing a particular candidate’s story or being reminded to vote can help increase the chances people will show up on election day.

You can even make this into an opportunity to see your friends. “It’s a great way to spend a weekend,” De Luca says. “A lot of times these campaigns are in the fall, and it’s really lovely outside.” And looking at this as a social activity can help you have a bigger impact, too. “People would rather have a conversation with a group of people who seem like they’re having a great time together,” she says. “The more excited and into it you are, the more receptive someone will be to having a conversation with you.”

Drive people to the polls on election day — literally.

If you live in a driving city or town, you can sign up to tote people who might not otherwise be able to get to the polls with Carpool Vote. Plan to take the day off or take a half-day; many companies offer a paid time off for volunteering. Or make this tip a two-fer by combining it with making election day a company holiday.

Organize childcare for campaign volunteers and voters.

The FEC recently ruled to allow women running for office to use campaign funds for childcare, which is huge. But what about the volunteers who support them, or the voters who show up to the polls? Women are more likely to vote. They’re also more likely to be responsible for child-rearing. Consider rallying a babysitters club to watch volunteers’ kids while they stuff envelopes or hang out with voters’ children at the polls.

Cleaver says she knows someone who hired a magician to come entertain kids waiting in line at the polls with their parents at her polling place in rural Georgia, where voters sometimes had to wait for hours. “Childcare is such an important issue in terms of who gets to run for office,” Cleaver says, “as well as who gets to participate in their communities.”

If Politics Is Your New Calling in Life

Lend your skills to a campaign.

If you’ve found a candidate you really love and you have some extra time on your hands, consider lending a more specific skill to a campaign on an ongoing basis. In her book, Litman details some ways you can help a campaign beyond the typical volunteer activities. For instance, if you’re the planner in your friend group, you might enjoy helping with “advance,” which is campaign-speak for logistics. If you’re an Excel nerd, you could do data entry. If you’re that person who always has a granola bar in your bag in case someone gets low blood sugar at the club, you could be a “comfort captain” or an office manager.

Consider becoming a staff member on a campaign — or running for office yourself.

If you become a superstar volunteer, you could even become a staff member for the candidate you’re supporting. If you’re looking for other political jobs, join Jobs That Are Left, a listserv that blasts paid political opportunities to your inbox.

Thinking about joining the pink wave and running for office yourself in the future? Reach out to Emily’s List, She Should Run or Run for Something for more information. If you’re driven and dedicated to making changes in your community, you’d be a good candidate to run for office — seriously.

“Traditionally, women don’t raise their hands and say they want to run for office, while men look in the mirror and see a member of Congress,” De Luca says. Since 2016, though, women are no longer waiting to be asked. “They’re raising their hands and saying, ‘It’s my turn.’”

Sarah Davidson is a writer living in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter here.

Collage by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.

Get more Brain Massage ?