Why the 2022 Midterms Matter

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New national parks, renewable energy, long-term climate goals and the fate of the Arctic are all at stake: Here’s your guide to the midterm election issues that matter most to public lands advocates.

A lot of voters take the polls every four years, scratch out a vote for president, and consider their civic duty done. But midterm elections, which take place in the middle of each president’s term, are just as critical. 

That’s because the midterms elect all 435 seats of the House of Representatives, as well as a full third of the 100-person Senate. As such, this election decides which party controls Congress. That can make or break all kinds of legislation, from big bills that set climate goals and environmental standards, to the designation of new national parks

Of course, national-level issues aren’t the only reason to vote in the midterms, says elite trail runner and environmental advocate Clare Gallagher (she/her). A winner of some of the biggest long-distance trail races in the U.S., including the Leadville 100 and Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, Gallagher has spent a lifetime in the backcountry. Over the past few years in her hometown of Boulder, Colo., she’s witnessed climate change happen in real time, via worsening air quality and hotter forest fires. That’s ultimately what motivated her to get involved in climate politics—not just at the national level but in her own backyard.

“We can’t just wave a wand and say, ‘America is going to be carbon neutral,’” she explains. “It takes local work.” In other words, broad national policies matter, but they can be easily undermined when dozens of statewide measures slash air pollution regulations or wilderness protections. Conversely, national policies can be massively bolstered and magnified when local policies support them. That’s why it’s essential to vote for local leaders who espouse smart climate policies and are willing to go to bat for public lands, says Gallagher. 

Of course, the trick is figuring out which leaders are going to do that—at the national, state, and local levels alike, Gallagher says. Here are five tips for voting smart and making sure your voice is heard. 

I voted early sticker on a middle aged woman’s finger

6 Ways To Vote for the Outdoors in the 2022 Midterms

1) Educate yourself on relevant issues. 

There are a number of environmental issues at stake in this year’s midterms. Three areas (Avi Kwa ‘Ame, Camp Hale, and the Castner Range) are up for National Monument Designation, which would make them a part of our national parks system. There’s also been a lot of discussion around drilling in the Arctic, so conservation-minded voters may want to look for representatives who have voiced opposition to resource extraction in wilderness areas

Instead, look for candidates who promise to support renewable energy bills—like The Clean Energy for America Act or the Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator Act, which may soon be put to vote.  

As for more local politics, Gallagher recommends researching new ballot measures before you get to the polls. Seemingly small changes—like switching local elections from odd years to even years, a measure Gallagher is currently advocating for in Boulder—have the potential to drastically boost voter turnout and therefore sway the outcome of future elections. 

2) Research incumbent leaders.

“If your senator or representative is up for reelection, see how they voted on the recent reconciliation bill,” Gallagher suggests. If they voted ‘yes’ on that bill—which was called the Inflation Reduction Act and included some amazing conservation policies—that could be a sign that they’re pro-public lands. 

Gallagher recommends giving your local leaders the same treatment. In Colorado, for example, you can look up your representative’s track record on the CORE Act, a sweeping conservation bill that would protect hundreds of thousands of acres of land. If your representative has vowed to support that bill—or another like it in your state—that could be a good reason to vote for them. 

3) Look at your representatives’ environmental scorecards. 

Gallagher also recommends looking at candidates’ environmental scorecards. These are reports that analyze how they’ve voted on conservation measures in the past. Several big nonprofit groups issue these kinds of scorecards for current elected leaders. (The League of Conservation Voters Environmental Scorecards are among the most popular and comprehensive.) 

If a candidate is new to politics and doesn’t yet have an environmental scorecard, you may have to dig deeper. Read some recent news articles in which they explain their positions on climate, or scan the pages on their website where they discuss their proposed environmental policies.

4) Help get out the vote.

If you already vote every year, consider taking your civic duty to the next level and helping others do the same. Research shows that higher voter turnout—especially among young voters and voters of color—usually results in more votes for climate-action candidates. 

You can help get out the vote in a number of ways, from volunteering at understaffed local polling places to joining letter-writing campaigns or texting campaigns. (Handwritten letters have been proven to be especially effective at increasing voter turnout.)

5) Join a local environmental group.

Gallagher also recommends working directly with environmental organizations in your neighborhood to see what campaigns they need help with ahead of the midterms. You could stand to gain a lot, too: Ever since she got involved canvassing and volunteering in her own hometown, Gallagher says she’s felt a stronger sense of place and deeper connection to her community than she’s ever had before. 

“To start,” she says, “try finding out what local groups are trying to protect an open space in your area, and ask what you can do to get involved.”

6) Vote early. 

Voting early is another way to increase your impact and ensure your voice is heard. Early voting helps give your favorite candidates more time to understand their constituents’ leanings and focus their campaign efforts accordingly. It’s also a better deal for voters: if you can’t get off work on Election Day (Nov. 8), early voting gives you more opportunities to find time. Plus, polling places are generally less crowded on early-voting days than they are on Election Day. 

Another benefit of voting early? It gives you time to fix or correct your ballot if it gets flagged for a typo or missing signature—technicalities that can disqualify a vote from being counted. (You can sign up for alerts for mail-in ballots at ballottrax.com or with your local election office.) 

But, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter when you vote as long as you make sure to do it, Gallagher says. “Voting is the best way we can give back—and to build a legacy of leaving America better than we found it.” 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.