State of the race

The US constitution delegates responsibility for election administration to state governments. In the early days of the republic, white men who owned property were entitled to cast public votes by voice at the local courthouse. Paper ballots became more popular by the middle of the 19th century after newspapers began to publish lists of candidates for public office, which could then be used by prospective voters. Political parties subsequently adopted the practice of distributing their own preprinted and completed ballots, which resembled railway tickets, to the party faithful. These could be deposited directly into the ballot box—hence the phrase “voting the straight party ticket.”¹

A lot has changed since those early days. Mechanical voting machines were in use for decades. Punch cards supplanted metal levers until optical scanning machines became popular. Today, many states have adopted absentee ballots and early voting as an alternative for registered voters. According to the US Election Project at the University of Florida, more than 100,000 votes had been cast in various states by the first week of October. As a nation, we are already voting in the midterm elections.

The incumbent president’s party generally suffers from a loss of enthusiasm in the midterms. That certainly appeared to be the case earlier this summer when Republicans were well positioned to capture both houses of Congress. A Supreme Court opinion and a handful of legislative accomplishments have boosted Democratic prospects, but it may not be enough to avoid the loss of one chamber of Congress, and perhaps the second, to the GOP. Voter turnout, in person or by mail, will determine the outcome.

Further reading