18 October 2010

Vocabulary In the News : US Midterm Elections

On 2 November, Americans will vote in national midterm elections to elect the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate. National elections take place every two years in the United States. This year’s elections are called midterm elections because they fall fall in the middle of a president’s 4-year term in office. This Election Day, all 435 seats of the House of Representatives, whose members only have a 2-year term, are up for election. In the Senate, one-third of Senate seats out of 100 are up for election. Members of that body have 6-year terms.

Currently there are 253 Democrat seats, 178 Republican seats and 6 empty seats in the House of Representatives. The Representative from California’s 8th congressional district, Nancy Pelosi is the current Speaker of the House. She is the 60th and first female to preside over the chamber. The Speaker of the House is probably the closest thing that the United States has to a prime minister. The Speaker is the second in line to the presidency after the Vice President and is in a leadership position of the majority party. He or she also works to set the political agenda for their party giving the Speaker a great deal of power. It is the second most powerful position in the US Government.

All polls in the US project a Republican sweep in the elections. This means that the party will pick up seats in a very large number retaking control of that chamber. The polls currently predict that the Republicans will win 212 seats with Democrats maintaining 183 seats. Forty seats are considered tossups. If pollsters say a seat is a tossup, they are indicating that they can’t predict which candidate will win because poll numbers are too close. If Republicans are swept into office in November, the current Minority Leader John Boehner will probably become the 61st Speaker of the House. Mr. Boehner represents Ohio’s 8th congressional district. To be a member of the House, the Constitution requires that the representative to be a minimum of 25 years of age when he is sworn into office.

In the Senate, one-third of that body’s seats are up for election. There are currently 57 Democrats, 41 Republicans and 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats. If a member caucuses with a certain party, this means they meet with and vote with that party. In effect, this gives the Democrats 59 seats but one vote short of an absolute majority of 60 votes. Sixty votes are need to stop a filibuster by the minority party and to proceed to a vote. In the Senate, there are no time limits to how long a senator may speak on the floor. To stop or delay a proposal known as a bill, a senator can filibuster till the end of debate. In other words, he talks the bill to death. The only way to stop a filibuster, is to have 60 senators willing to vote for cloture.

The Vice President of the United States is also the President of the Senate as written in the US Constitution. Vice President Joseph Biden is the current President. Today, modern vice presidents rarely preside over the Senate except for the swearing in of new members, joint sessions of Congress and to cast a tie-breaking (or “casting”) vote if there is a 50/50 vote. Other than this exception, the President of the Senate cannot vote nor participate in debate. In the absence of the vice president, the Senate chooses a president pro tempore to preside who is usually the highest-ranking senator. The President pro tempore is also third in line to the presidency after the Speaker of the House.

If polls hold true, Republicans will also gain seats in the Senate. The current projection is 49 Democrats, 46 Republican and 5 tossups. If the Senate is divided 50/50, then the President of the Senate’s party retains control. In this case, the Democrats would still have control but with neither party having a 60-seat, filibuster-proof majority. According to the Constitution, a senator must be a minimum of 30 years old when he takes office.

In these elections, Americans are not only voting for Congress, they are also going to the polls to vote for over a million different offices at the state and local level including governors, lieutenant governors, members of state assemblies, local and state judges, local education boards, sheriffs, etc…. Most states will also have referendums and state constitutional amendments on the ballot. Republicans are expected to hold the majority of governorships. Of the 50 states, polls predict 14 Democrat governors, 26 Republican and 10 seats are still a tossup.

This election has been described as an anti-incumbent election because many Americans are tired of the same old politics by what has come to be called the political establishment or the ruling class. This negative term is used to describe that elite group of politicians that have power or authority. In many cases, they have held elected position for a long time. An incumbent is the term used for any outgoing politician who is running for reelection. The anti-incumbent movement has not only targeted Democrats but has also targeted establishment Republicans, many of whom lost in state primaries to a more conservative Republican. If an incumbent is not running for reelection, then the candidates are running for an open seat.

For further election news and to track election poll numbers as they change, go to http://www.realclearpolitics.com/

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