Opinion of the Staff: Greater Voter Participation Turns Midterm Elections from Bland to Grand

Staff

This year, just before the start of the holiday season, the country experienced a different kind of season: a season of change — at least as far as politics was concerned. This November’s midterm election saw a shift in political idealism, participation, and the comings and goings of some influential folks. Unprecedented levels of voters turned up at the polls, the highest numbers in decades. Citizens encouraged one another to get out and vote, and vote they did. As a result, this election season saw the rise of the progressive movement, and the increased presence of female and diversity candidates. The midterm elections, traditionally a time of voter apathy, turned out to be something out of the ordinary.

University of Florida political scientist Michael McDonald, who runs the United States Elections Project, reported that the November 2018 election boasted the highest recorded voter turnout in the last 25 midterms, dating back to 1914. Many had wondered if Generation Z, spurred by student activism following the Parkland shootings, would in fact help shape the political outcome of the midterm elections. The website Refinery29 reported statistics from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) that showed that 31 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds voted in the midterms this year, a 50 percent increase over the last midterm election cycle. Additionally, it is now two weeks after polling ended, and the state of Florida, where the Parkland shootings occurred, is still in flux as both the Senate and gubernatorial races are still too close to call as we approach our publication deadline. One can infer from this that in the cradle of the Parkland movement, the youth vote most definitely had an impact.

Another significant result of the elections is that though incumbents are generally favored to win, nearly 25 percent of Congress will consist of new faces, according to analysts at the website FiveThirtyEight. Several notable political figures will find themselves out of a job shortly, including Texas Representative Pete Sessions (Chairman of the House Committee on Rules), Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Dean Heller of Nevada, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a 2016 presidential candidate.

In the forward-moving impact of progressive politics, newly-elected politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Congress and Pelham’s own Alessandra Biaggi in the NY State Senate, seem to be defining a new era of politicians with a mission. Biaggi won her state senate seat with 74 percent of the vote. Though New York has been a traditionally blue state, the fact that Biaggi, a young woman, defeated the highly funded incumbent Jeff Klein, speaks to an acceleration of the progressive movement. One of the most notable takeaways from the 2018 midterm elections was the increased role of women, LGBTQ+ citizens, and minority groups in the government. For the first time ever, over 100 women were elected to the United States House of Representatives, making her-story!

The first Muslim woman, Ilhan Omar, was elected to Congress from Minnesota. The first Native American and openly gay woman was elected to Congress from New Mexico, defeating Kevin Yoder, one of the top 10 recipients of NRA funding in the House. Jared Polis, an openly gay man, was elected to the governorship in Colorado for the first time. The first Latina woman, Veronica Escobar, was elected to Congress from Texas. In addition, the first African-American female attorney general of New York, Letitia “Tish” James, was elected. In a country famous for being a melting pot of diverse races, ethnicities, religions, and gender identities, historically, our government has been run by a cadre of “straight, white men”; this increased level of diversity victories seems especially exciting. Our Congress will be a little more representational of the variety in our populace. Men have made up 85 percent of U.S. Supreme Court justices since 1910, 63 percent of all U.S. presidential cabinet members since 1900, and, historically, 76 percent of U.S. Senators. The midterm elections resulted in other groups moving some of these men out of office in order to create a more wholesome government to represent the American people.

That said, it appears that in large, conservative values stayed in conservative states and liberal values stayed in liberal ones cementing the idea of a great national divide and the great “blue wave” some expected was less of a tsunami than a splash. There were a few exceptions, such as Democrat Kyrsten Sinema securing a Senate seat in Arizona, which is traditionally red, but the majority of election results reflected a desire to maintain traditional regional beliefs. .

The most encouraging takeaway from the election is that more Americans than in decades are getting out and voting. This midterm saw record turnout, an incredible feat. Whether due to an increased communication network via social media, or an energized base, citizens are expressing their constitutional duty and making their voices heard, and regardless of one’s politics, that has to be viewed as a good thing.