If you think nothing is really at stake in this year’s midterm election, think again. Here, why you should stand up and be counted. 

By Noelle Howey
Updated October 22, 2014
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1. Because control of the U.S. senate hangs in balance.
“This year’s Senate election is close,” says FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief, the statistic wunderkind Nate Silver. "Republicans have the clearer path to a majority, but it's a treacherous one." Check out the latest election forecasts here. The thin margin between candidates in a number of states including North Carolina, Kentucky, and Iowa means that turnout on Election Day will make all the difference.

If you tend to vote for Republicans, you’ll want to help them realize their goal of controlling both houses of Congress. And with your vote, you can show which issues matter to you the most: “Americans have heard a lot about the 'war on women' recently. This term aims to divide us,” says Christine Toretti, founder of the Women Lead PAC, which supports female Republican candidates, and a board member of the Republican State Leadership Committee. “It’s time we tell our leaders to stop dividing us for political gain—and exercising our right to vote will send that message.”

If you tend to vote for Democrats, you’ll want to do your part to keep them in charge of the Senate. “We have the chance to make sure that our country focuses on women's health and economic security—policies like a higher minimum wage, equal pay, and paid leave,” says Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, a national organization that works to elect pro-choice women to office. “But all of that will only become a reality if women get out and vote.”

2. Because, in three states, you have a say on laws that would restrict access to abortion.
Colorado’s Amendment 67 would extend legal rights and “personhood” status to “unborn human beings” at every stage of a pregnancy. Under this law, abortion could be criminalized, regardless of the reason (including rape, incest or when the mother’s health is at risk). Similar personhood bills were defeated by a wide majority in 2008 and 2010.

Additionally, North Dakota’s “Life Begins at Conception” Amendment, Measure 1 would enshrine—in the words of the bill—“the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development.”

Tennessee’s Amendment 1 would remove all protections for abortion under the state constitution, making it easier for the legislature to enact restrictions, such as mandatory waiting periods and rules that second-trimester abortions be performed in hospitals, not clinics.

3. Because in one state, Massachusetts, you can make your voice heard on the issue of paid sick leave.
The Paid Sick Days Initiative, Question 4, would ensure that workers cannot be fired for calling in sick. Additionally, it would mandate that businesses with more than 10 employees offer up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year. (Smaller companies would have to provide unpaid leave.)

This policy would especially benefit Massachusetts women, many of whom are single mothers and low-wage workers, writes University of Massachusetts at Amherst professor Naomi Gerstel for WBUR, the public radio station in Boston.

4. Because in another state, Florida, you can weigh in on the hot-button topic of medical marijuana.
Amendment 2 would allow the medical use of marijuana by people suffering debilitating illnesses, as long as they have a doctor’s recommendation. If the Amendment passes, Florida would join 23 other states and the District of Columbia, which have legalized marijuana for this purpose.

5. Because in Washington state, you can deliver a message in favor of—or against—gun sales background checks.
Two gun-centric initiatives are on the ballot this November, but they couldn’t be more different. Initiative 594 would require the state to run a background check on every gun sale in the state. It would also prohibit people with certain criminal backgrounds or a history of severe mental illness from possessing a firearm.

On the other hand, Initiative 591 would keep the state from enforcing tighter background checks than the federal government requires.

6. Because if you don’t vote, you forfeit the right to complain.
Whether you’re aligned with the Democrats, with the Republicans or are a proud independent, remember this: Election day is one of your best opportunities to make real, meaningful change. Adds Schriock, "When we stay home, we're saying we're happy with the way things are.”