Although presidential election years are characterized by partisan debates and high voter turnouts, decisions made during the midterm elections can impact both national and local issues equally, despite seeing fewer voters at the polls.
Midterm elections are general elections held at the midpoint of a president’s four-year term in office. While midterms might not receive equivalent public attention compared to presidential elections, all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and nearly one-third of U.S. Senate seats are up for election.
During midterms, the president’s party generally loses seats in both the House and Senate, which has the potential to impact the remaining two years of a president’s term.
“It’s super, super, super important to participate in all elections because if we want to reaffirm what a democracy is, it’s important that everyone is participating,” said Larissa Strong, the president of Ohio University Democrats. “Midterm elections are specifically really important because … midterms set up your main elections every four years.”
Despite the importance midterms hold both nationally and locally, they typically engage fewer voters compared to a presidential election year.
According to the Ohio Secretary of State’s website, voter turnout percentage is higher during presidential elections than that of midterms and off-year elections, which are elections when neither a presidential nor midterm election takes place.
The Secretary of State’s office reported a voter turnout of about 71% during the 2016 presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. However, during the last midterm election in 2018, voter turnout was reported to be around only 55%.
In Ohio, the trend has remained consistent since 2000. During the presidential elections of 2000, 2004 and 2008, voter turnout was reported to be 63.73%, 71.77% and 69.97%, respectively. Compared to voter turnout reported at 47.81%, 53.23% and 49.22%, at the midterm elections in 2002, 2006 and 2010. In the presidential election of 2012, voter turnout was around 70% compared to the 2014 midterm which saw only about 40% of voters at the polls.
This election season, JD Vance and Tim Ryan are both vying for Ohio’s U.S. Senate seat. Tim Ryan is a Democratic congressman in Ohio’s 13th District, which is composed of several northeast Ohio, counties. He has served in that role since 2003, and primarily focuses on economic goals in the region, according to his campaign website.
Comparatively, JD Vance, the Republican candidate, has not led the life of a politician. Vance is a former Marine and the bestselling author of Hillbilly Elegy, his memoir. According to Vance’s campaign website, he believes his position as an “outsider” will best serve Ohioans.
In addition to the Senate race, Athens County residents will also have to decide between Republican incumbent Jay Edwards and Tanya Conrath, the Democratic candidate, for the Ohio House of Representatives 94th District seat. The race between Conrath and Edwards has been contentious throughout the election season and even made its way to the Ohio Supreme Court, which had to decide whether Conrath was legally allowed to have her name on the ballot.
“Presidential (elections) are our major year,” Tony Brooks, the Athens Board of Elections deputy director, said. “This is our second busiest election … so since it's the Governor and all of our state offices … those usually have voter turnout in the higher range for the county.”
This year, races for Athens County auditor and one of three county commissioner seats will directly impact local politics in Athens.
As of Nov. 2, Brooks said there were nearly 40,000 registered voters in Athens. The League of Women Voters of Athens County is one organization in Athens that encouraged residents to register to vote before the deadline.
“The presidential election gets all the media and the press and everything, and those are very important, but if you look at your day-to-day life and think about what bodies are making laws and rules that affect you, it's your local races,” said League of Women Voters of Athens County Co-President Adriane Mohlenkamp.
During every election, however, students at OU have a choice to vote either in their hometowns or register to vote in Athens.
“Athens politics is what is going to affect your day-to-day, so by participating in Athens politics, you take command of what's going on in your everyday life,” Strong said. “I think that is super important because if you're voting in your hometown, you're only there for winter break, spring break, summer break … but fundamentally Athens politics are what is going to affect you the most.”
The OU Democrats held voter registration drives throughout this year's election season, including a large-scale event on National Voter Registration Day in September in which the organization registered nearly 100 people to vote in Athens.
“I think with every midterm election, it's kind of hard to get people engaged just because it's not as punchy and exciting as a presidential election, but from what I have seen, and the people who are near me, it seems like people are pretty aware of the gravity of this election,” Strong said.
Anna Millar contributed to this report.
See what voters had to say in the video below.