A midterm Election Day primer for kids

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

All across the country, adults are going to the polls today to vote in national, state and local elections.

Whoa!!! You may be saying. How can that be? Wasn't it just two years ago, in 2008, that we had a national vote that elected Barack Obama president? You would be absolutely right. But presidential elections are held only every four years, while other national elections are held every two years. When elections happen in years that Americans are not selecting a president, they are called midterm elections. KidsPost's Tracy Grant tries to answer some questions you might have about why your parents may be wearing "I Voted" stickers today.

If we're not choosing a president, why are we voting?

Because there are a lot of elected offices in this country other than president, including Congress. There are two houses in Congress: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Members of each will be selected today.

House of Representatives: Members of the House of Representatives are elected to two-year terms. The number of representatives a state has is based on its population. Virginia has 11 representatives; Maryland has eight. (The District of Columbia has one nonvoting member of Congress because it's not a state). So all 435 seats in the House will be decided by today's elections. Do you know who your representative in Congress is? (Don't feel bad if you don't; less than one-third of American adults do.)

Senate: Senators are elected to six-year terms, and each state has two senators. (So, how many senators are there overall?) This year, there are 37 Senate seats to be decided. One local senator, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, is up for reelection. No Virginia Senates seats are contested this time.

There are also many state elections going on.

Age limits for members of Congress: You have to be 25 years old to be elected to the House of Representatives and 30 to be elected to the Senate.

Governors: The governor is the leader of a state similar to the way the president is the leader of the country. People in 37 states will choose their governor today, including Maryland voters, who will choose between the current governor, Martin O'Malley, and the man he defeated in 2006, then-governor Robert Ehrlich.

State legislatures (which are like Congress, but on a state level): There are also lots of candidates running for these seats.

In addition there are local elections. These include school boards, city and county councils, and other positions. Voters in the District of Columbia will choose a new mayor today.

Wouldn't it make more sense to vote for everything at once?

That might seem convenient, but it's not what the Founding Fathers wanted when they wrote the Constitution. They set the terms of office for the president, representatives and senators so it's not possible mathematically to vote for everyone on the same day.

Is today the only day to vote? No, 33 states and the District of Columbia allow people to vote early, either in person or by mail. This is meant to make it easier to vote so that more people will do it.

So, how many people will vote?

In the 2008 presidential election, 62 percent of Americans who were eligible to vote actually cast ballots. That number will be smaller today because historically there is less interest in elections that don't involve the president.

Does anything really change because of elections?

Right now, the Democratic Party is in control of Congress. The president is a Democrat and the majority of senators and representatives are Democrats. But if Republicans win a lot of the races in the House or the Senate, that could change. Who is in control of these parts of the government can affect the government's priorities.

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