Midterm elections have notoriously low turnouts. Just over one-third of eligible voters show up when the presidency is not at stake, versus the more than half who show up when it's time to elect a new commander-in-chief.
Which is weird, because more than $4 billion (BILLION!) has been spent by candidates and outside groups this year on the midterms, making it the most expensive off-cycle election ever. But that's not why you should get out and vote on November 4. In fact, there are plenty of really good reasons for you to NOT skip out on filling in those bubbles. While midterms lack the sex appeal of presidential races, there is a lot of serious legislation and vital votes that take place every midterm that have, literally, changed lives.
If you don't vote, someone else will
"The question I get asked the most is if midterms matter and I think the most important time for young people in particular to vote is now when they can have a huge impact," said Ashley Spillane, president of the non-partisan group Rock the Vote. "This is the largest generation in our country's history and they're the hardest hit by the economic downturn and student loans... and they can have a tremendous impact on the local level where almost all laws that impact their lives are made."
Spillane said so much of the legislation that impacts young voters -- from voting rights restrictions to women's health issues and marriage equality -- originate on the state level and are impacted by people who are elected in these "off" years. And, she added, the only way to let them hear young people's voices and to have a say in how the future is crafted is by voting and making sure those legislators are accountable to the voters who put them in office.
"There's no such thing as not voting, you're only ceding your vote to someone else's opinion... when you don't show up you're not making them pay more attention to your vote, you're shifting attention to those who do show up," Spillane said. "I like what one woman tweeted at us: If you’re not at the table, you’re likely on the menu."
Proof that you can make a huge difference
In case you still think there's no reason to vote, we asked Justine Sarver, executive director of the progressive Ballot Initiative Strategy Center to run down 8 examples of important midterm legislation that passed (or failed) because you turned out to vote, as well as ballot measures this year that could hinge on your participation:
1. It's the minimum wage, stupid: In 2006, a number of states had measures aimed at getting young voters to the polls, according to Sarver, including ones that called for minimum wage increases in Missouri. That measure was pushed by Senator Claire McCaskill in her successful bid to unseat Republican incumbent Jim Talent. "She campaigned for a minimum wage increase and got elected and voters saw a direct result of them turning out by an increase in wages," said Sarver. McCaskill has gone on to be a strong supporter of abortion rights, civil rights, funding for Pell Grants and fighting global warming.
2. The environment comes first: Despite strong opposition (and huge cash donations) from major oil companies and big corporations, California voters successfully defeated Proposition 23 in the 2010 midterms, putting off a rollback of the state's 2006 Global Warming Solutions act, a landmark piece of environmental legislation.
3. Affirmative action on the chopping block: "We're still feeling the repercussions of not enough young people voting against propositions eliminating affirmative action programs," said Sarver, noting that, in 2010, Arizona voters approved a ban on affirmative action similar to one passed in Michigan in 2006 (as well as Oklahoma in 2012 and Nebraska in 2008). "These bans affect public education, especially students of color and women in terms of access to education at public universities," she said.
4. Reproductive rights are a huge issue this year: Young voters should scan their entire ballot and make sure they know what measures matter to them, because at least half the states have important ballot initiatives that could have a huge impact on their lives. "Colorado, North Dakota and Tennessee all have items attempting to limit women's reproductive rights that young people should pay attention to," according to Sarver. "From trying to create a definition of when life begins to limiting choices women can make about their bodies in relation to pregnancy, and in some cases, like an ectopic pregnancy, possibly being prosecuted for manslaughter."
5. Listen up Illinois voters, if you want to get paid more and ensure your vote: If you live in Illinois, you have a chance to weigh in on whether the minimum wage should rise from $8.25 an hour to $10 and a ballot question about health insurance coverage for birth control. There's also a measure aimed at prohibiting attempts to suppress voting by requiring photo ID on Election Day courtesy of a constitutional amendment that would ban discrimination based on "race, color, ethnicity, status as a language minority, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation or income." Cook County is also considering universal background checks for firearms sales and an assault weapons ban.
6. Pot is a burning issue in several states: There are a number of marijuana issues on the ballot this year as well. While a proposition to legalize pot in California was defeated in 2010, Alaskans will have a chance to decriminalize possession thanks to Ballot Measure 2, Floridians can approve medical use with Amendment 2 and Oregonians can vote to legalize recreational marijuana. Washington, D.C. residents can also vote to allow adults over 21 to possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use.
7. Want to get paid more? Then vote: If you sweat out the summer working at a minimum wage job, and you live in Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska or South Dakota, you can vote to raise your wage.
8. If you're worried about Voter ID laws, then, duh, vote: And if you're worried about losing out on your chance to vote in the future because of attempts to cut down early voting and election day registration or other voter suppression tactics, check your ballot in Connecticut, Illinois, Montana and Missouri.
For a full run-down on Tuesday's ballot measures, click here.