Op-Ed: Let’s Break the ‘Midterm Curse’

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EDITOR’S NOTE: iSEE Communications Intern Lucy Nifong is passionate about the importance of students voting, and she offers this op-ed piece to bolster that argument.

The countdown to midterm election day has begun. In Illinois, one U.S. Senate seat and all 17 Illinois U.S. House of Representatives seats are on the ballot. This election will also decide the next state Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Treasurer, and Comptroller, not to mention countless local elections.

Now more than ever, midterm elections are pivotal moments for our country’s future. The rise of political extremism, worsening climate change, and other prominent issues raise the stakes of today’s elections. These politics have an enormous impact on people’s outlook and optimism for the future.

Will politicians protect the Earth so I can grow old on a planet that I recognize?

Will I have the same rights I have now in a few years?

The 2022 midterm will be extremely close and decisive for the future of the United States. Growing political polarization as many societal issues reach a critical point will undoubtedly affect this year’s election, but it’s unclear how the 2022 political climate will interact with the “midterm curse.”

Although the national voting rate for college students increased 13 percentage points between the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, student voting rates continue to plummet during midterm election years. At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 66% of all eligible students voted during the 2020 presidential election, the same as the national average voting rate for college students. Meanwhile, the campus student voting rate for the 2018 midterm election was only 40% (the same as the national average voting rate for college students that year) — though in fact that was a record turnout for student voting during midterms.

The trend of lower voter participation at midterms extends far beyond college campuses. National voting rates are roughly 20% lower in midterm years compared to presidential election years. This leads to the feared “midterm curse” in which only voters who dislike the president and the president’s political party are motivated to vote. Supporters usually feel no need to enact change through their vote since they are content with the current political leadership. The curse has affected nearly every midterm election in recent history, as midterms do not have the same popularity, “wow factor,” or straightforwardness of presidential elections.


Efforts on Campus

To combat the curse, members of the Student Sustainability Committee (SSC), the campus chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action (PPGA), and many other student organizations are working overtime to convince students to cast their vote.

Maddie Gats and other SSC Communications Project Leads are developing a social media campaign to promote voting among students concerned with environmental issues in politics. “Information is a powerful tool,” she said. “Just letting students know of websites they can use to register to vote and locations to submit their ballots will have a major impact.”

Gats believes the 2022 midterm season will begin to push environmental issues back to the forefront of American politics.

“Over the past couple years, most elections have focused on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic issues surrounding the pandemic,” she said. “However, as we have slowly returned to normalcy, I think environmental issues and issues regarding sustainability are coming back onto the agendas of businesses and the mass public.”

As politicians turn their attention back to environmental issues, being aware of the values and perspectives of the candidates we vote for is essential for electing politicians that advocate for the environment.

PPGA Co-Presidents Adriana Nguyen and Emma Darbro are determined to overcome the challenges students face that may deter them from voting. Students, especially freshman, are often hesitant to vote.

“After hearing that we would support them, help them get registered beforehand, let them know who Planned Parenthood endorses, and offer to go to the polls with them, that hesitation evaporates,” said Nguyen. PPGA plans to vote early as a group to empower new and returning voters at the polls.

Unlike PPGA, which advocates for reproductive rights, SSC must remain politically neutral as a university-affiliated organization. Claire Keating, the SSC’s Education and Justice Working Group Chair, argues this should not stop organizations from encouraging students to vote.

“Mass mails should be sent out to encourage students,” Keating said (campus sent one on Oct. 25). “Setting up tables on the Quad to help them register is a great way of increasing student voter engagement. In addition, creating an easy list of candidates who support certain policies will allow students to feel encouraged and empowered to vote.”

By facilitating registration, providing information on the voting process, and breaking down the real-world impact of electing different candidates, student organizations embolden young people to make their voice heard.

“We always appreciate other RSOs who continue to mobilize young people by helping them register to vote, providing information on candidates, and even providing opportunities to speak with candidates to truly humanize the name they fill the bubble next to,” said Darbro, “but there can never be enough.”

For Keating, voting itself is an act of environmental advocacy.

“This midterm election is crucial to the environment. Moreover, every election after this will be important for environmental sustainability. There are some candidates who don’t even believe in climate change, and there are other candidates who are fighting to create a healthy environment for all.”

From now until Nov. 8, it is up to us to elect these candidates.


Author Lucy Nifong sporting an “I voted” sticker

Not Too Late to Cast Your Vote

I believe it is impossible to “not care about politics.” Policy impacts every aspect of our lives whether we accept it or not. You can deny this, or you can determine who has the power to make the policy that affects you and the people you care about.

So, here is how students can vote in the upcoming midterm election.

In Illinois, everyone must register before voting. Although the online registration deadline was Oct. 23, you can register in-person at your local elections office from now until election day, Nov. 8. To register in Illinois, you must be at least 18 years of age, a U.S. citizen, a resident of Illinois, and a resident of whatever precinct you wish to vote in for at least 30 days before election day. This means that students from other parts of Illinois may choose to register to vote in Urbana-Champaign rather than in their hometown. In fact, PPGA encourages members from regions of Illinois with likely landslide election outcomes to register in Urbana-Champaign, where election results are more uncertain.

Once registered, Illinois residents may vote by mail, vote early in-person, or vote in-person on election day. If you wish to vote by mail, you can apply online for an absentee ballot up until Nov. 3, which is five days before election day. The ballot will be mailed to you with instructions and a return envelope to submit by mail. The completed ballot must be postmarked by election day. Early in-person voting is also open at various locations until Nov. 7. By entering your county on the Board of Elections website, you can find early voting locations and hours for your precinct.

For students voting in Urbana-Champaign, the Illini Union is an early voting site! Cast your ballot on the first floor of the Union any time from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, or 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays. Beginning Monday, Oct. 31, the Siebel Center for Design will serve as an early voting location during the same hours.

On Nov. 8, polling places will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. If you’re in line at your polling place by 7 p.m., you have a right to cast your vote. Additionally, Illinois voters are not required to show ID when voting as long they have shown proof of ID when initially registering to vote. You can find your election day polling place here.

For information on voting in other states, go to Vote.org to find your state’s voting rules, deadlines, and polling place location. Be sure to travel home to vote early, or vote by mail, as soon as possible. And note: Nov. 8 is a campus holiday — so you can get to the polls anytime without missing class.

As college students, we are constantly busy, may not have our own transportation, or otherwise feel like voting is too much of a hassle. Luckily for us, many aspects of voting are now online, the Illini Union is an early voting location, and election day is a campus holiday. Voting is 100% accessible to college students! We should not let our classes, jobs, extracurriculars, or social life be an excuse to not cast a vote. So bring a friend with you to vote at the Illini Union, cast your vote early next time you travel home for the weekend, or make a gameplan to vote on Nov. 8.

For descriptions of the candidates on your midterm ballot, use the nonpartisan Illinois Voter Guide created by the League of Women Voters in Illinois. By entering your address, you can view your sample ballot with a summary of each candidate’s values and links to further information.

If you’re interested in politics and public policy — and perhaps shaping future policy — check out iSEE’s Environmental Leadership Program. Experience the policy development process firsthand at the state and local level and engage with leaders in government. The deadline to apply is has been extended to Monday, Nov 7, 2022.