Early voting in the midterm elections is kicking off in several states, but it’s not too late to get involved in key races. Readers have already heard a lot about how critical these elections are for the future of US democracy, but the reasons bear repeating: The midterms will decide whether President Biden and the Democrats will be able to pass reform legislation in 2023 and 2024. Key races for governor, secretaries of state, attorneys general, and control of state legislatures will decide if there will be fair elections in 2024.
Major advances by MAGA forces will set the stage for their capturing Congress and the White House in 2024 (either through elections held under anti-democratic election rules, or through some form of coup). A second MAGA presidency would be worse than the first, with few restraints.
The broad democratic coalition (socialists, progressives, independents, moderates, and traditional Democrats) that defeated Trump in 2020 must once again meet the challenge of the highly organized and well-financed extremists who now control the Republican Party.
If our aligned forces can push back the Right in these midterms, we will be in a better position in 2024. If we can prevail in 2024, we can consolidate a multiracial working-class voting bloc, and the Left will be better positioned to advance major chunks of a more social democratic agenda for the long-term.
Battleground states overview
The races to follow include state legislative fights, battles for Secretary of State and governors’ seats, House of Representatives races, and a few potentially game-changing Senate contests.
Increasing the number of votes for Democrats in battleground states helps lay the groundwork for more sweeping victories later. The outcomes of governors’ races may determine whether Republican-controlled state legislatures can further rig the electoral rules. The same is true with secretaries of state and attorneys general. Regarding the House of Representatives, Democrats have an uphill battle if they are to retain control. Nonetheless in competitive races, a strong showing by Democrats makes it more likely they can prevail in 2024.
In the US Senate, Democrats have a chance to enlarge their majority and make it “Manchin- and Sinema-proof” which will be absolutely necessary, especially if Republicans re-take the House. In the most competitive races, Republican candidates are weak –– think Herschel Walker. And Senate races enable Democrats to mobilize urban and suburban voters. But we must take nothing for granted––again, think Herschel Walker; as weak as he is, polls show him being within striking distance, especially if turn-out among Black, Latinx and Asian American voters is lower than it was in 2020.
What’s at Stake. The mid-term election in Arizona is hotly contested on many levels. The re-election of Sen. Mark Kelly is a must-win for Democrats. His opponent Republican Blake Masters, a staunch Trump election denier, recently scrubbed his campaign website of language accusing Democrats of trying to “import a new electorate,” an open endorsement of racist, xenophobic, and white supremacist ideology. State races and propositions are also highly charged, with Trumpers Kari Lake running for governor and Mark Finchem running for secretary of state.
The state legislature is narrowly controlled by Republicans, and they have used their majority to pass voter suppression laws and anti-abortion legislation. Flipping a few seats to the Democrats would blunt the right’s power and provide a safeguard against a Republican invalidation of the popular vote for president should a Democrat carry Arizona in 2024. Lastly, restrictions on voting will be on the ballot via Prop. 309 which would require voters to provide either a state-issued identification number or the last four digits of their Social Security numbers when they apply for an early ballot. Getting a state identification card adds a burden on people who for various reasons are unable to go through the application process.
The Mobilization. Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA) has been a driving force that uses elections to build grassroots power, primarily for Latinx communities, for over a decade. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials estimates a record turnout of 644,000 Latinx voters for the mid-term election––a four-fold increase in two decades. LUCHA also is part of an electoral coalition that brings together leaders from Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities.
Native American voter turnout also was higher than usual in 2020 and hopefully, with the help of groups like Northeast Arizona Native Democrats, it will be again in 2022.
Arizona’s Asian American vote tends to favor Democrats, and groups like Arizona Asian Americans Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders for Equity Advocates are poised to replicate their voter turnout successes of 2020.
Key Dates. The deadline to request a ballot by mail is October 28. Early voting begins October 12.
What’s at Stake. The Peach State is the focus of national attention given the high-profile campaigns of Stacey Abrams for governor and US Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is seeking re-election. Progressive State Rep. Bee Nguyen’s race for secretary of state is also exciting Asian Americans across the country as well as Georgia Democrats.
Hyper-awareness of the election has led to 1.6 million people registering in the past few months; 20% of Georgia’s voters have registered since the 2018 election, which is important given purges of the voter rolls in 2019.
The Mobilization. One notable effort is Georgia Poor People’s Campaign, which has a strong base among African American churches. They are inviting local organizations to host watch parties for the Oct. 17 National Revival services led by Rev. William Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis. The Georgia Poor People’s campaign is also hosting simultaneous marches in Atlanta, Columbus, Valdosta, Savannah, and Macon on Oct. 15. The New Georgia Project Action Fund is opening 13 field offices across the state, aiming to knock on 700,000 doors, and turn out 150,000 new voters. Black Voters Matter, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and Showing Up for Racial Justice also are engaged in voter outreach and mobilization, hoping to build upon 2020’s successes.
Key Dates. Early voting begins on Oct. 17 with Saturday voting on Oct. 22 and Oct. 29. Sunday voting occurs in select counties on Oct 23.
What’s at Stake. Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto has seen her lead over challenger Adam Laxalt narrow in recent weeks. Adam Laxalt was the chair of Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign in Nevada, and campaigns on the Big Lie that the election was stolen. A strong increase in voter registration among women could boost Cortez-Masto’s chances, as Laxalt staunchly favors the reversal of Roe v Wade. Latinx voters make up 20% of the electorate and strongly favor Masto.
The races for governor and secretary of state are also generating excitement and anxiety in Nevada. Democrat Gov. Brian Sisolak is running for re-election against Trump-endorsed Joe Lombardo, the sheriff in Clark County (Las Vegas). Pundits consider this race to be dead even. In the secretary of state race, former state assembly member Jim Marchant claims the 2020 election was stolen by Biden. He is opposed by Democrat Cisco Aguilar, a lawyer and member of the state athletic commission. A poll released Oct. 2 showed Marchant leading by eight points.
The mobilization. Latinx voters make up 20% of the electorate and turnout is expected to rise by 5.8% over the 2018 midterm election. Somos Votantes, a Latinx voter mobilization group, has a canvassing operation in place, and its affiliated Somos PAC has purchased $4 million in ads to support Masto. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing ethnic group in Nevada and their votes for the Democrats provided a critical margin in Biden’s close victory in 2020. One APIA Nevada conducts year-round voter registration work among APIAs who are 10% of the state’s electorate. Culinary Workers Union Local 226, an affiliate of UNITE HERE, is on track to knock one million doors in the state, with 250 members on a political leave of absence.
Key Dates. Early voting in Nevada begins on Oct. 22 and runs through Nov. 4.
What’s at Stake. The Tar Heel state features one of the most competitive U.S. Senate races as Democrat Cheri Beasley, former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, faces three-term Rep. Ted Budd, a Trumper who backs Sen. Lindsay Graham’s proposed federal law to ban all abortions after 15 weeks. Voter registration has gone up 2% since December 2021, netting 20,000 new voters, many of them women.
The state legislative races are a huge priority for the Republicans, who need to gain two seats in the State Senate and three seats in the State Assembly to attain a supermajority that can override Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s veto. Republicans have wanted to ban all abortions in North Carolina. Two seats on the State Supreme Court are up in this election.
The Mobilization. Several voter mobilization projects are underway to get Democratic and independent voters to support Beasley and other progressive candidates. The New North Carolina Project targets improving turnout among Black voters and Latinx voters. They model their work on that organized by Stacey Abrams in Georgia, which emphasizes year-round training of voting rights activists and development of new candidates. They hope to bring a majority of the one million eligible voters of color who did not vote in 2020 to the polls in 2022. Similarly, the New Rural Project, which operates in seven of the poorest rural counties in the state, is conducting deep conversation surveys to persuade young people and people of color to register and vote.
Key Dates. Early voting in North Carolina begins on Oct. 20 and ends on Nov. 5. A handful of sites are listed for each county.
What’s at Stake. In the race for the open U.S. Senate seat, Democratic Lt. Governor John Fetterman faces off against Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz, who only moved to the state in 2020. Oz, who was endorsed by Trump, has fallen behind Fetterman, who appeals to a growing multiracial working-class base. Democrats need to win this seat if they want to preserve, and possibly enlarge, their US Senate majority.
The governor’s race is also generating national coverage. Retired Army colonel and Republican State Senator Doug Mastriano, a Trumper who participated in the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, faces state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who currently is favored to win. Since the governor appoints the Secretary of State to oversee elections, there is grave concern that a popular vote for a Democratic candidate for President would be invalidated if Mastriano became governor. Since the Republican-controlled state legislature has vowed to enact more restrictions on reproductive rights, Pennsylvanians need a Democratic Governor who would veto those bills.
Democrats need to flip four seats in the State Senate and 12 seats in the House to win a majority in the General Assembly. That’s a tall order for Democrats in 2022, but certainly not impossible to achieve in a few more election cycles.
The Mobilization. Pennsylvania Stands Up is a membership-based organization with several chapters throughout the state. In 2020, their members held conversations with 400,000 people as part of a voter mobilization effort. Along with a diverse coalition of African American, Asian American, Latinx, and other groups, they are conducting voter contact campaigns utilizing door knocking, phone banks and text banks, and digital ads. Additionally, national groups such as the Working Families Party, Seed the Vote, the AFL-CIO and other organizations are active in Pennsylvania.
Key Dates: Early voting has already started and ends on Nov. 1 at county election offices.
What’s at Stake. The battle for the U.S. Senate pits Democrat Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes against incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who supported Trump’s false election fraud claims. Barnes’ polling numbers have been going down lately; as of October 5, he is one point behind Johnson. Still, Johnson may be losing moderates and independents. Democratic Governor Tony Evers is locked in a tough re-election battle against Trump-endorsed businessman Tim Michels. Whoever wins this race can veto or sustain election laws passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature.
By Aug. 1, 3,468,390 people had already registered to vote, approaching the highest number in state history. Voter registration among young people has increased from 266,869 in 2014 to 275,649 as of Aug. 1. African American Mandela Barnes is a young, dynamic leader and Democrats hope his candidacy can not only reverse declines in the Black voter turnout in Milwaukee and other cities, but also ignite the participation of younger voters.
The Mobilization. As in other states, a wide assortment of groups is participating in voter mobilization efforts. One particularly strong organization is the Wisconsin Working Families Party, which has been involved in voter education, campaigning for local candidates, and participating in federal campaigns since 2015. Other groups involved in voter mobilization include Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Voces de la Frontera Action, Inc., and Freedom Action Now, Inc. Seed the Vote is coordinating with these groups on door-knocking and phone-banking.
Key Dates. Voters can vote early in Wisconsin using their mail-in ballot, but the dates and hours of this service vary from county to county. Wisconsin also has same-day voter registration on election day.
What’s at stake. In an unexpected development, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan has pulled ahead of Trump-endorsed Republican J.D. Vance for the open U.S. Senate seat. Ohio voted solidly for Trump in 2016 and 2020, and Republicans dominate state politics. Ryan, a moderate Democrat who voted with Trump on America First trade policies, is appealing to independent and some Republican voters as a proven lawmaker versus the neophyte Vance, whose claim to fame is authoring Hillbilly Elegy. Ryan has rankled Asian American voters with a campaign ad saying, “It’s us vs China.” Blaming China for the loss of U.S. jobs lets American corporations which have outsourced jobs to Asia, Mexico and other countries off the hook, and encourages anti-Asian hate. Ryan has refused to back down on his ads. Nonetheless, Republicans call him a liberal Democrat. Ryan is backed by organized labor and women’s organizations because of his support for reproductive rights. A Ryan victory greatly improves the Democrats’ chance to retain a narrow U.S. Senate majority.
Key dates. Early voting begins on Oct. 12 and ends on Nov. 7.
What’s at stake. Incumbent Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan faces conservative retired Army General Don Bolduc. Hassan is a liberal Democrat, while Trumper Bolduc favors a national ban on abortion. Bolduc, who vociferously claimed over the past year that Biden fraudulently won the 2020 election, reversed his position days after he narrowly won the Republican primary. Then, on October 5, he again questioned whether Biden won in 2020.
Hassan won her 2016 U.S. Senate race with a margin of 1,017 votes so she must go all out in this purple state. Organized labor, women’s groups and environmentalists are active on the ground to support Hassan.
Key dates. There are no opportunities for early voting in New Hampshire, but any eligible voter can register and vote on Election Day.
What’s at Stake. The key race is between incumbent Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican businesswoman Tudor Dixon, who has been endorsed by Trump and conservative billionaire Betsy DeVos. Since the state legislature is dominated by the Republicans, Gov. Whitmer has been the safeguard for democracy, vetoing GOP voter restriction laws and bills that promote the lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
Securing a fair election is the focus of the secretary of state race that pits Republican Karen Karamo, who claims Trump lost 2020 due to fraudulent votes for Biden, against Democrat incumbent Jocelyn Benson. Trumper Matt DePerno, another “stolen election” advocate, will face Democrat incumbent Dana Nessel for state attorney general.
Two ballot measures should also bolster progressive turnout. Proposal 2 would amend the state constitution with provisions protecting elections and expanding ballot access. Another constitutional amendment, Proposal 3, would protect people’s right to abortions. Backers of Proposal 3 gathered more than enough signatures to qualify the measure, only to see the state election board block it from the ballot due to a typographical error. A court decision restored it to the ballot. Current polling shows 67% of Michigan voters support affirming the abortion rights and the reproductive health measure.
The Mobilization. There are many groups active on the ground in Michigan, including We the People Michigan and Detroit Action. Check out Movement Voter Project – Michigan for a list of groups that need your support.
Key Dates. Michigan allows online voter registration right up to Election Day. Voters can bring their absentee ballot to an election clerk’s office two weeks before Nov. 8 to vote early.
Ways to Get Involved
The most impactful ways to get involved are phone-banking and door-knocking. There is no substitute for this kind of face-to-face interaction. And the best way to get involved is through organizations that have relationships with base-building groups.
Seed the Vote works with statewide organizations in the battleground states: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. They help volunteers partner with a group to do phone-banking and/or door-knocking in those states, with training on deep canvassing.
The Working Families Party is a membership-based organization with chapters in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. They do year-round organizing on community issues as well as endorsing candidates for local office. WFP is currently operating phone and text banks for candidates in several states.
Working America, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, has three million members. WA has been organizing in communities across the nation since 2003. They have worked on campaigns to raise the minimum wage, expand Medicaid, and secure educational equity. In 2022, WA is active in several states; for example, it is canvassing voters in California’s Central Valley.
The Democratic Party runs coordinated campaigns that knit together individual candidate races and federal campaigns in many states. In some counties, the Democratic Party may be the only organized body that is actively getting out the vote. Because its work is transitory, lasting just for the length of the electoral cycle, it must start anew with each election. There is very little infrastructure left behind to build upon the voter contact work. Contact the local Democratic Party if that is the only vehicle to available to you.
If you want to provide financial support to grassroots GOTV efforts, and help sustain their year-round organizing as well as their electoral work, consider a contribution to the Movement Voter Project.
Sandra Hinson of the Convergence written content team contributed to this story.
An earlier version of this article appeared on Unity News.
Featured image: Coalition Canvass in Milwaukee, WI on Sept. 9, with participants from Wisconsin Working Families Party, SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, Power to the Polls WI, Voces de la Frontera Action and other grassroots organizations. From Wisconsin Working Families Party via FB.