Stakes are high this Election Day. Again

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Control of Congress and other key state and local offices are on the ballot.

President Joe Biden won’t be on the ballot Nov. 8, but the people elected to Congress and state and local offices will have a big impact on what he can get done for the remainder of his first term - and on American life over the next couple of years.

These elections are called “midterms” (as in, they happen right in the middle of a presidential term). Here’s what you need to know to understand the news about them.

The ballot

Every two years, every seat in the House of Representatives is up for election. The Senate is a little different: About a third of the seats in the 100-member Senate are up, because senators serve six-year terms.

Many states have aligned their elections on this schedule, which means 36 governors, as well as various states’ chief election officials and thousands of state legislators, plus even more local positions, are on the ballot. Add to that various ballot initiatives to change state policies - like on abortion - and a single election season has the power to reshape the country.

The big question

Will Biden have a Democratic-controlled Congress for the remainder of his first term? Or will Republicans pick up one or both chambers of Congress, which will empower them to block Biden’s agenda?

In fact, one of the surest trends in American politics is that the party that holds the White House loses seats in midterm elections. For decades, “it has usually been that the party in power expects a wake-up call” at the midterm elections, said Laura Smith, a presidential historian at Oxford University. “Americans have tended to vote in divided government in the midterms as a bit of a slap in the face to the sitting president.”

A September Washington Post-ABC News poll found 53 percent of Americans disapproving of the job Biden’s doing. And 51 percent of independent voters said they want Republicans in charge of Congress next year to act as a check on Biden.

But Democrats have found momentum from one recent key event: The end of national abortion protections in America.

The House

Republicans need to flip five Democratic seats to retake the House majority. Historically, a president’s unpopularity has translated into dozens of seats lost in the House in midterm elections.

Plus House Republicans may have already secured their majority through redistricting. Every 10 years, states must redraw their congressional and state legislative districts based on new census data. It’s supposed to reflect population changes, but many state politicians use the opportunity to affirm their party’s grip on power in state legislative and congressional districts.

The Senate

Democrats’ majority in the Senate is even more precarious than in the House. Republicans need to win just one Democratic seat to take back control of the Senate for at least the next two years.

Some of the most competitive Senate races are in states that voted for Biden in 2020.

If Republicans win Congress

They have been signaling their intentions to challenge Biden’s agenda and the Democratic Party if they win a majority. The House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol would likely be shut down.

Republicans have also said they may launch investigations into the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the financial dealings of Biden’s son Hunter.

If Democrats keep control of Congress

One of Democrats’ priorities could be limiting what Donald Trump could do, should he be elected president. Some House Democrats have already proposed legislation to make it harder for a president to filter out federal government workers who don’t agree with them, and to strengthen protections for whistleblowers in the federal government. But like most legislation in Congress, Republicans in the Senate could block it with a filibuster.

It’s possible - though not likely - that Democrats grow their majority in the Senate and have enough votes to break through the filibuster on key issues for their party, from voting rights to gun control. They might also move to codify abortion rights and same-sex marriage into federal law.

The states

They’re just as important as Congress, because so much of what heats up our national conversation right now - abortion, voting rights, redistricting - is really decided in the states.

Some of the biggest races for governor are happening in presidential battleground states. If Republicans win governor’s mansions in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, they have a chance to control all of state government in those states.

Republicans dominate state legislatures, as they have for the past decade. They are hoping to flip Democratic-controlled chambers in Colorado, Nevada and Maine.

Also, there are races for secretary of state, the chief election official in many states. In Arizona, Nevada and other states, Republicans have nominated 2020 election deniers who could call into question the legitimate results of an election.

The issues

Democrats weren’t sure what they were going to talk about to motivate voters, until a conservative Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and with it 50 years of federal abortion protections. Democrats find themselves on the winning side of public opinion, as underscored this summer by voters in conservative Kansas rejecting a proposal that opened the door to an abortion ban.

Republicans are trying to steer the midterm elections to where they think Democrats are weakest: The cost of gas and groceries, and some voters’ concerns about rising violent crime and border crossings.

5 key races

Georgia governor: Incumbent Brian Kemp is seeking a second term against Democrat Stacey Abrams, whom he defeated in 2018.

Pennsylvania Senate: Dr. Mehmet Oz, a familiar presence on TV who was endorsed by Donald Trump, and Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman are in a tight race, polls show.

Arizona Senate: Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, who won the seat previously held by Republican John McCain after McCain’s death, is seeking a full term against Republican Blake Masters, a venture capitalist.

Georgia Senate: Incumbent Raphael Warnock faces a challenge from Republican Herschel Walker for a seat Republicans hope to reclaim.

Georgia House: Voters in the 2nd District will choose between Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop, first elected in 1992, and Republican Chris West, an attorney and commercial developer.

ExploreGet Out The Vote, an exclusive AJC series

VOTING IN GEORGIA

Where and when can I vote on Election Day?

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Nov. 8. You can find your polling place on the Georgia secretary of state’s website: mvp.sos.ga.gov

Can I vote early?

Early voting is available in every county in Georgia through Friday, Nov. 4. Check the secretary of state’s website for locations.

Do I need ID?

Georgia law requires identification when voting, either in person or absentee. It’s the way your county ensures it’s you casting your ballot and not someone who isn’t eligible to vote.

What IDs are acceptable at polling places?

  • Any valid state or federal government-issued photo ID, including a free ID card issued by your county registrar’s office or the Georgia Department of Driver Services.
  • A Georgia driver’s license, even if expired
  • Student ID from a Georgia public college or university
  • Valid employee photo ID from any branch, department, agency, or entity of the U.S. government, Georgia or any county, municipality, board, authority or other entity of this state
  • Valid U.S. passport ID
  • Valid U.S. military photo ID containing a photograph of the voter
  • Valid tribal photo ID containing a photograph of the voter

What if I don’t bring an ID to vote?

If you are unable to provide ID, you will be able to vote a provisional ballot. You will need to provide a copy of your ID within three days after the election to your county Board of Elections and Registration. As long as you do so, your provisional ballot will be counted, as long as you are otherwise eligible to vote.

How can I check the status of my ballot?

That information is on the Georgia secretary of state’s website.

Source: Georgia secretary of state,

OUR VOTER GUIDE

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta Civic Circle teamed up to contact hundreds of candidates to provide voters with a side-by-side look at the candidates for office, their views on issues voters care about most, their party affiliation and their history in elective politics.

On ajc.com, our Georgia Decides voter guide includes basic information on candidates for statewide office, the legislature and candidates for local office throughout metro Atlanta. These include county officials such as county commissioners and school board members.

ABOUT THIS SERIES

Over the next seven days, we’re dedicating this space to a collection of pieces that remind you that, yes, your vote does count, and, yes, our elections are secure.

That means the Atlanta Forward pages will look a little different.

You’ll notice that we are not publishing letters to the editor this week. We’re giving our national columnists, such as George Will and Leonard Pitts, a break. And Mike Luckovich and our From the Right cartoonists will return in a week.

Throughout the week, our hope is to engage in a civil and non-partisan discussion. We’ll experiment with different ways of presenting information. Along the way, you’ll hear a lot from your neighbors about the importance of voting.

To help you cast your ballot, you’ll also notice that we will be providing plenty of useful information, such as how to find your polling place and what you need to bring to the polls to do your part to uphold our Democracy.

Come back to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and AJC.com every day this week

Sunday

Election integrity is on everyone’s mind. Learn more about the steps Georgia is taking to ensure your vote is secure.

Monday

There’s plenty at stake in the midterm elections. Across the country, voters will have a big say on American life over the next couple of years.

Tuesday

Historically, voter turnout can be low in midterm elections. Let’s work together to buck that trend.

Wednesday

Young voters represent the future of our country. Learn why they’re turning out and casting their ballots – and why you should, too.

Thursday

Black men are an integral part of history; by voting, they can remain engaged in our today and our tomorrows.

Friday

We’ll remind you once again that, yes, your vote does count. It’s not only your duty, but your civic responsibility – and a way to ensure your voice is heard.

Saturday

For a variety of reasons, some voters don’t plan to cast ballots. We’ll debunk the myths – and hope we can convince them to vote.

Next Sunday

Still on the fence about casting your ballot? We’ll provide some inspiration from your neighbors – our network of community contributors.