Midterms Matter for Life Outside. Here’s Why.

On Nov. 8, you have a chance to vote for the outdoors.

You probably know by now that voting in presidential elections is an important way to fight for causes you care about—including a life outside that’s accessible, equitable and protected. But did you know that casting your ballot during midterm years is equally vital? That’s because it’s your chance to vote for congressional, state and local leaders, all of whom have major influence in policies that shape the outdoor experience and safeguard the natural places we love. 

Let’s look at what midterms are, what seats are up for election this year and why they matter for a life outside.  

Make Your Plan to Vote

Brush up on what’s at stake this year. Then, make your plan to vote. We have tools and resources that can help.

What are midterm elections?   

Midterm elections happen two years into a president’s term and are a chance to elect leaders in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Because House representatives serve two-year terms, all 435 seats are decided every midterm election. Senators serve staggered six-year terms, so only about one-third of their seats are up for election each midterm year. 

Local and state elections also happen during this time. Depending on where you live, you may be choosing a new governor, attorney general, state legislator or local leaders.  

What’s at stake this year? 

This year, 36 governor seats, 30 state attorneys general, 86 state supreme court seats, 34 U.S. Senate seats and all 435 U.S. House seats are up for election. In addition, 84% of state legislators are on the ballot. Depending on the state you live in, there may be additional local races—for instance, for mayor or judge seats.

A person hugging a tree.

How does the election influence policies related to life outside?  

When it comes to supporting the natural places we love, midterms matter. Click through to learn more about how governors, lawmakers and ballot initiatives can influence the environment.

Governor Races 

This position is important because governors can influence state policy related to outdoor equity and climate action.  

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For instance, these state leaders could invest in electrifying public transportation or set and uphold emissions standards for the state, supporting both local air quality and broader climate goals.

They can also promote outdoor access by creating or managing existing state offices of outdoor recreation, and pitch budgets to support changing needs, like additional firefighter costs for states prone to wildfires or water infrastructure in states likely to suffer flooding or droughts due to a warming climate. They can also set aside funding to create parks in historically underserved areas. 

Additionally, governors can help set up programs that allot money for infrastructure projects that improve bike lanes and urban trails, among other things. These state leaders will also influence how money from the bipartisan infrastructure law is spent. 

These are just a few ways they can use their power to improve access to the outdoors, address emissions and pollution levels in their state and support the creation and maintenance of natural spaces for residents.   

Congressional Races 

The makeup of the House and Senate matter. In the Senate, for instance, most bills require 60 votes to move forward. With only 100 senators, each senator’s vote has an outsize influence on what advances through the chamber.

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Earlier this year, a divided Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which represents the largest investment in climate action in U.S. history. The law includes money for priorities such as parks funding; restoration and conservation initiatives; extended tax credits for purchasing an electric vehicle; and billions of dollars in rebates for those who buy energy-efficient and electric appliances. Midterm outcomes will determine which party will take control of each congressional chamber and as a result have more influence over the implementation of this law—as well as future climate legislation. 

If you want to vote with the environment in mind, you can research congressional candidates to see where they stand on important climate goals, like renewable energy, fossil fuels, electric vehicles and other conservation and environmental issues. For incumbent candidates, you can review voting guides to see how they’ve voted on legislation in the past. 

Ballot Initiatives  

As of August 31, there are 131 ballot measures that have been certified on the ballots in 37 states.

Learn more.

While these measures cover a wide variety of issues, several are related to life outside with a focus on climate policy, environmental protection, transportation funding, parks funding and more.  

To learn more about your ballot, head to REI.com/vote (where you can use the Motivote tool to make a plan to vote). You can also learn more about candidates and issues at stake here.   

What else should I know about midterm elections? 

  • Fewer voters turn out for midterms. This trend has been consistent since the 1980s, according to Pew Research. Why it happens is unclear, but some speculate that it’s because midterms are less publicized than general elections. This is in part why so many organizations work to engage would-be voters to cast a ballot—the intent is to ensure people exercise their right to vote.
  • The president’s party typically performs poorly. Incumbent parties have historically lost Senate and House seats during midterm years. It’s also not totally clear why this happens, but some have theorized it could be due to dissatisfaction with the sitting president. This trend applies across party lines.
  • You can make a voting plan. Having a strategy in place can make it easier to commit to casting your ballot when the time comes. For instance, maybe you need to find childcare, arrange a ride to your polling place or secure an absentee ballot. Addressing barriers early can ensure things run smoothly when it’s time to vote. Ready to make your plan? Head to REI.com/vote. 
  • You can continue taking civic action even after the election. While voting is important, your commitment to supporting policies you care about doesn’t have to end at the polls. You can maintain momentum by reaching out to your representatives post-election and encouraging them to endorse legislation you support.