Welcome To The Midterms

  • A
  • A
  • A

Andrew Pulrang


Are you ready for another election season? Not in 2020, this year. Believe it or not, it’s time for the “Midterm” elections.

Why are they called “midterm” elections? Literally, it’s because they come at the midpoint of every four-year Presidential term. Plus, the word “midterm” reminds us of midterm exams in high school and college. As in school, a midterm election is a testing point, for elected officials. In effect, they and the ideas they represent get graded.

That’s what midterms elections mean to Presidents, other elected officials, and political parties across the country. But, do midterms matter to voters, in particular, voters with disabilities?


Midterm Elections come two years after the previous General Elections, two years before the next General Election. So, it is an early opportunity for voters to either change direction politically or confirm and strengthen the current political path. It’s also a chance to fix mistakes if you regret any of your votes from the last election.

Conventional political wisdom is that marginal, less committed voters tend to sit out midterms. In fact, election polls often include two figures, one for registered voters, and another for “likely” voters. That’s an opening for disabled voters because we are usually assumed to be less “likely” to vote. As we saw in 2016, surprise movements and surges in voting among poorly understood groups can be decisive.

Untapped potential

Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse of Rutgers University have been studying voting participation among people with disabilities for the last few elections. Their most recent report, looking at 2016 voting, included some key findings worth considering right now:

68.3% of voting age people with disabilities were registered to vote, compared to 70.6% of non-disabled people, a 2.3% gap. 82% of registered disabled voters actually voted, compared with 88% of non-disabled registered voters, a 6% gap.

Kruse and Schur also found that while voting by disabled people increased from 2008 and 2012, the voting rate actually went down a bit in 2016.

(Source: Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse, Fact sheet: Disability and Voter Turnout in the 2016 Elections).

This is important because the overall numbers of disabled voters is already high. About 16 million disabled people voted in 2016. Recently, major elections have come down to thousands of votes. In local races, hundreds or even handfuls of votes can make the difference. As disabled people, we have the numbers to make a difference. But potential alone doesn’t do anything. We actually have to vote.

What’s at stake this year?

33 Senate seats (⅓ of the total), and all 435 House seats are up for election. Both the Senate and House are currently controlled by Republican majorities. Changing control in the Senate would require an overall Democratic gain of 5 seats. To switch control in the House, Democrats would have to gain 43 seats overall … a goal that polls indicate could be within reach. Meanwhile, Republicans are trying hard to hold onto the House, while their Senate majority looks to be slightly more secure.

From New York, Kirsten Gillibrand’s Senate seat is up for election, while Sen. Chuck Schumer’s is not. All of New York’s 27 U.S. House of Representatives seats are up for election.

36 state governorships are up for reelection this year, including in New York. Governor Cuomo believed to be a favorite to win, but he is not well liked by progressive Democrats or the disability activist community. A primary challenge from fellow Democrat Cynthia Nixon could produce surprising results, or force Gov. Cuomo’s policies in a more progressive direction.

All but a handful of state legislative chambers will also hold elections this year. In New York, all 150 Assembly seats are up for election, as well as all 63 State Senate seats.

Finally, hundreds of local offices across the United States will be elected this year, including county legislators, city, town, and village mayors and council members, and other specialized offices.

In more blog posts leading up to the November 3 election, we will explore how these elections at all levels can affect people with disabilities, and how disabled voters can affect the outcomes. Stay tuned!