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US midterm elections for dummies: What you need to know

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Every four years the United States (US) vote in the midterm elections. What are they? How does voting work? And what are the key issues dominating this 2018's vote? Here is a dummies guide.

What are the midterm elections?

Americans votes for a new president every four years in a general election. Midterm elections occur halfway through a president's term and are usually held in November.

Midterm elections are not the same as state and local elections, which are held yearly.


What do Americans vote for in the midterms?
Americans vote for members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, which make up the upper and lower chambers of Congress. Congress is the legislative (i.e. law-making) branch of the US federal government.


The House of Representatives consists of 435 seats that are up for election every two years. One third (35) of seats in the Senate is also up for election as members of the Senate serve staggered six-year terms. Also up for grabs are 36 state governors' offices, three US territory governors' offices, many mayors' offices and local officials. Voters will also decide on ballot measures such as former felons' right to vote.


How does the Senate election work?
The Senate is composed of senators, each of whom represents a single state in its entirety, with each state being equally represented by two senators. The winners in each state are the candidates who receive a plurality of the popular vote.


To win the Senate, a party needs to win 51 seats. The Republicans currently hold 51 seats and the Democrats 49. However, out of the 35 seats up for election in 2018, 26 are held by Democrats. The party will therefore need to keep all 26 their seats and gain two seats to take control of the Senate – a tall order.


How does the House of Representatives election work?
To win the House, a party needs to win 218 of the 435 seats. The current House has 236 Republicans and 193 Democrats, with six vacant seats. The Democrats therefore need a net gain of 24 seats to win a majority.


The House is composed of representatives who sit in congressional districts that are allocated to each of the 50 states on a basis of population as measured by the US Census, with each district entitled to one representative. All representatives are directly elected.


The Republican Party currently controls both the House and the Senate.


What are the polls saying?
Polls are suggesting the Democrats are likely to win the House, while the Republicans will keep the Senate. Historically, the president's party is likely to lose the House in his first term. While unemployment is down and the economy is growing under President Donald Trump, Republicans are worried about his spending and greater voter turnout among Democrats could mean a victory for the blue party.


According to early predictions more than a dozen Republican-held seats have already flipped, while the Democrats appear to be holding onto their seats.


Why does it matter who wins?
With the Republicans controlling both the Senate and the House, the Trump administration has until now enjoyed the full support of Congress. If the Democrats control the House, they will be able to hinder Trump's ability to implement programs as he wishes. The party with a majority in the chamber also controls its committee chairmanships and has the power to issue subpoenas – so a Democrat-controlled House could enforce aggressive oversight of investigations of the president's administration, including alleged Russia collusion, Trump's business dealings and sexual assault allegations against him.


The House can also initiate impeachment proceedings against the president, although it would need a two-thirds majority in the Senate to remove him from office.


Do people actually vote in the midterms?
Voter turnout in the midterms is usually much lower than in the general elections, but this year seems to be a record year. Three days before the election, the New York Times reported that 31.5 million people had already voted in the absentee elections. According to the Pew Research Institute the number of votes cast in Democratic primaries for the House were 84% higher in July than at the same point in the 2014 midterm primaries.


What are the key issues?
Even though Trump is not on the ballot, he is at the centre of the 2018 election. The midterms are always seen as a referendum on the White House occupant but the billionaire businessman's unique approach and personality has taken the trend to a new level. Sending thousands of troops to the US-Mexico border to counter a migrant "invasion", questioning the validity of birth right citizenship and spreading stories of scandalous murders by undocumented immigrants, Trump and his Republicans are making immigration a closing argument of the campaign.


The Democrats, in turn, have focused on health care with the central message to voters being that if Republicans strengthen their grip on Congress, they will destroy health care, including coverage protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.


What else?
This year's midterms are said to be the most expensive in the history of the US with a total of $5.2bn being spent on campaigning, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.


Source: News24

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