Your state or local election office is the best source of information on elections in your area. Many election offices make periodic updates to their websites. These include upcoming races, the candidates, and primary election dates. The U.S. Vote Foundation is another source for election dates and deadlines.
Congressional elections determine who represents your state in Congress. Congress is the branch of the federal government that makes laws. It includes the House of Representatives and the Senate. Learn how the three branches of government work.
Midterm elections (PDF, Download Adobe Reader) occur halfway between presidential elections. Voters choose one-third of senators and every member of the House of Representatives. The congressional elections on November 6 are "midterms."
Midterms determine which party—Democratic or Republican—will control each chamber of Congress for the next two years. The party that controls a chamber usually wins that chamber's legislative votes. Proposed legislation must pass in the House and the Senate for it to reach the president's desk.
U.S. House of Representatives
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives serve two-year terms. All 435 members get elected every midterm and presidential election year. The number of representatives a state has depends on its population. Each representative serves a specific congressional district. A representative must be at least 25, a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and live in the state he or she represents.
Senators serve six-year terms. One-third of senators get elected during each midterm and each presidential election year. There are 100 U.S. senators, two from each state. A senator must be at least 30, a U.S. citizen for at least nine years, and live in the state he or she represents.
State and local elections can take place in any year, at various times throughout the year. There can be statewide elections for governor or state legislature. A city may elect its mayor. There may be races for judges and local officials. Ballot initiatives may be up for a vote.
Write-In Candidates for Federal and State Elections
Besides the names on your ballot, you may be able to write in names of other candidates. Most states let you write in votes for president, U.S. senator, and U.S. representative. They also allow write-in votes for governor and other state offices.
But writing in a name doesn't mean that vote will count. Many states demand that write-in candidates file paperwork before the election. Otherwise, the state won't count the person's votes.
Forty-one states allow write-in candidates for president. Most demand the candidates file paperwork in advance. Nine states don’t allow write-in candidates for president but may for other offices.
Check with your state election office to find out the rules for your state. If you check using your state’s election website, enter “write-in candidates” in the search bar.