What the f... If you've stopped yourself from completing this sentence more than once as the midterm elections approach, you're not alone. Understanding politics isn't easy in general, but in this particular political moment, it's especially complicated. If you're having a hard time figuring out exactly what's going on, that doesn't mean you're dumb or ignorant. It means you're a normal human being who probably has a lot on their plate beyond just figuring out which races you're supposed to care about this fall.
So go ahead and say it: WTF even are the midterms, and what are these elections going to change, if anything? We pay so much attention to the presidential elections every four years, and it's easy to gloss over how crucial the elections that happen in between really are. But there's so much you need to know.
Here in WTFAQ, Bustle compiles answers to some of your most burning — or basic — questions about the midterms and the political process in general. From whether you can look at your phone while in the voting booth to whether your vote can change Trump's family separation policy, we've got answers. And we won't judge you for not knowing already.
Read more about why midterm elections are actually a big deal.
Read more about Election Day and what to do if you have to work.
How do I register to vote?
If you’ve never registered to vote (and even if you have, it's possible for your registration to expire), you can register online or by filling out some physical paperwork. It all depends on which state you’re in, so make sure you figure things out before your state's deadline.
Read more about registering to vote and what you need to figure out.
Can I vote in the state I live in if my ID is from a different state?
Maybe. It depends on which state you want to vote in and what kind of ID you do have, because the rules can be totally different.
Read more about what to do if you don't have an in-state ID.
Can I have my phone out while I’m voting?
That depends on where you’re voting. Some states say absolutely no cellular devices in the voting booth. If your state allows it, feel free to Google a candidate, snap a selfie (maybe without your ballot), or text away. But check out the rules beforehand, and listen to poll workers if they ask you to cut it out.
Read more about your state's rules on phone use.
So tell me, does my vote even matter?
If anyone tells you it's not important to vote or that your vote doesn't matter, don't listen to them. Races have come down to single-digit votes before. It may feel easier to just stay home with Netflix and takeout while everyone else waits in line at the polls, but you’re your own person with your own valuable opinions, and if you don't vote, you're letting everyone else decide your future for you.
Read more about why your vote seriously does matter.
Does the electoral college play a role in the midterms?
No. That’s a thing for presidential elections only. Midterms are direct elections.
Read more about what direct elections are and what does play a role in the midterms.
What would the Democrats have to do to take back the majority in Congress?
The legislative branch of the U.S. government — the arm that makes laws — is made up of two houses, the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the U.S. House, Democrats currently hold 194 seats and Republicans hold 241. Dems need to hold onto all their seats and gain an additional 24 in order to have even a slim, one-seat majority. They're closer to controlling the Senate. There are currently 49 Democratic and 51 Republican senators, so Democrats need to hold onto all of their seats and gain two more to control that chamber. Midterms generally go poorly for the party that’s in the White House, so it could look good for Democrats.
Read more about what Democrats have to do to take back the majority.
What would the Republicans have to do to keep control of Congress?
Republicans need to hold on tight. The party could lose up to 23 seats in the House and still stay in the majority. It will be tougher for Republicans to retain control of the Senate. Even if the midterms resulted in each party holding 50 Senate seats, Republicans would still have a majority because the Constitution mandates that the vice president is the tiebreaker in the Senate, and Vice President Mike Pence is a Republican.
Read more about what Republicans have to do to keep control.
Read more about third parties and whether they're ever successful.
What's the most reliable, unbiased source for information on the candidates so I can make an informed decision?
Sorry, there's no Yelp for political candidates. But we do have Ballotpedia and VOTE411. These are comprehensive, non-partisan sites that lay out candidate information for you depending on where you’re voting. There are also local options for info — and ways to tell whether what you’re reading is biased or not.
Read more about where to find reliable candidate information.
How does immigration in the United States even work?
Short answer: It’s complicated. Long answer: It’s really complicated. There are a few ways to legally immigrate: get a visa, be referred as a refugee by the United Nations, or get a permanent resident card.
Read more about how immigration in the United States works.
Can I vote to change current immigration laws in the midterms?
Not exactly. There aren’t immigration laws on the ballot (with the exception of one state), since they are federal laws and generally controlled by Congress. But that doesn’t mean your vote has no effect on U.S. immigration policies.
Read more about how your vote affects immigration laws.
How is the economy doing right now?
There isn’t one good answer for this one. It depends on who you ask, and it also depends on what you’re measuring: the unemployment rate, average earnings, the national debt, etc. Trump says the economy is doing great; economists say it’s complicated; and people paying off their student loans would probably say something that’s not fit for us to publish.
Read more about how the economy is doing.
Read more about how your vote affects the economy.
Read more about what the elections might mean for your student loans.
Is Obamacare still around?
The way the U.S. health care system works is complicated. Former President Obama introduced the sweeping Affordable Care Act, which expanded Medicaid, provided subsidies for low-income people to buy health insurance, and required everyone to have health insurance or be penalized. Ever since it passed, Republicans have tried to get rid of it. The law has been weakened — but it’s still somewhat intact, for now.
Read more about Obamacare and the health care system in America.
What is Medicare for all and why are people talking about it?
Medicare is a federal insurance program for people age 65 and older and some people with disabilities. Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and some Democrats want that program to be available for everyone to use, and more and more candidates — from New York state senate candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous — are adding it to their campaign platforms.
Read more about Medicare for all and what it would do.
How will the midterms affect my health insurance?
It's going to come down to who gets elected, unless your state is one of the few that has a health insurance-related measure on the ballot this fall.
Read more about how the midterms could affect health insurance.
Will the midterms affect my ability to get an abortion?
There’s nothing specific on the ballot that would immediately take away anyone's reproductive rights. That said, some states will vote on specific amendments that have to do with abortion, and of course, who gets voted into office may affect your access to abortion in the long term, because the Senate determines the confirmation of future Supreme Court justices (and thus, the fate of Roe v. Wade).
Read more about how the midterms could affect abortion access.
What about birth control?
Same thing. You won’t wake up on Nov. 7 wearing a red Handmaid’s cloak and a white bonnet, but the great IUD scare of 2016 wasn’t for nothing. Recent family planning funding and health insurance legislation has scaled back contraceptive access, and, as is true for just about every other issue, your ability to get BC will depend on who’s in Congress.
Read more about how the midterms could affect birth control access.
Read more about gun laws and what the midterms could do to them.
Read more about why ballot questions can be crucial.
Alright, so what are some of the biggest ballot questions in this year’s midterms?
There was a lot of talk about a measure to split California into three states, but that ended up being taken off the ballot. Voters in Massachusetts will decide on whether to repeal a law that protects transgender individuals from discrimination. A couple of states might change their constitutions to make it clear that they do not protect abortion as a right. A few states are voting on legalizing weed — and there are other big measures on state ballots, too.
Read more about some of the biggest ballot questions this year.
What states are voting on marijuana legalization this year?
Cannabis is a hot topic this November, with four states putting legalization measures on the ballot. Missouri is voting on legalizing medical marijuana, as is Utah. Michigan is voting on legalizing recreational marijuana. And North Dakota is voting to fully legalize marijuana and permanently erase weed convictions from people’s records.
It's not hard to imagine these measures being successful — just this June, voters in Oklahoma passed a measure that made medical marijuana use legal.
How can I get involved in helping people vote or get involved in campaigns?
You can help register new voters, sign up to drive people to the polls, work with your local election office, or find a candidate you're passionate about and help them win. There are so many ways to volunteer and get people as invested in the outcome of the election as you are.
Read more about how to get involved in the midterms.
Should I be worried about voter suppression in the midterms, and what would that even look like?
There are many different kinds of voter suppression that voting rights advocates have been sounding the alarm about, from voter roll purges to strict voter ID requirements (which are pushed by people who claim voter fraud is happening, though voter fraud is incredibly rare). However, there are steps you can take before Election Day to make sure nothing stops you from voting.
Read more about voter suppression and how you can get involved in efforts to fight it.
How can I be sure the midterm election results are valid, given what we know about Russian interference in 2016?
Russians probably aren't changing your vote once it's cast. But special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators have found that Russians did coordinate an "information warfare" campaign meant to divide Americans and influence how you behave at the polls. The best thing you can do is to do your own research and not rely on social media for information.
Read more about potential interference in the 2018 election results.
How are the midterm elections *actually* going to affect Trump?
If Democrats manage to gain control of at least one chamber of Congress, they'll make it a lot harder for Trump and Republicans to pass legislation. But there's one other thing that will become a bigger topic of conversation if Democrats take control of Congress — and that's the possibility of impeachment.
Read more about what the 2018 midterms could mean for Trump.