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Culture > News

A Very Brief Debrief on the Midterm Elections

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Columbia Barnard chapter.

Chances are, you have some strong opinions about what happened this past Tuesday. This election day felt like one of the most spirited in terms of debate, involvement, and, of course, online activity. With almost 50 percent voter participation and record-breaking numbers of early voting, many things about these midterm elections felt unprecedented. Of course, there was a lot at stake—this election represented how much power our legislative body would have against President Donald Trump and his now majority conservative Supreme Court. Many of us waited eagerly to see if the House and Senate would flip, hoping that representatives who would stand for us and our values would be elected.

Across the board, there were grand victories, crushing losses, and the reality of the “lesser of two evil-ism” that has been a hallmark of American democracy. This election appeared to bring up not only issues related to policy and dignity, but also brought to light grave existential concerns about our current system.

Historic wins

The night was celebrated by many after historic wins in New York, Kansas, Colorado, and other states. In New York, nine districts flipped from Republican to Democrat, and, at 29, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman to be elected to Congress. In Kansas and New Mexico, Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland became the first Native American women to serve in the House of Representatives. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar because the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress, from Michigan and Minnesota respectfully. Jared Polis from Colorado became the first openly gay male governor, and Ayanna Pressley became Massachusetts’ first black member of Congress. Quite a few states also experienced other “firsts,” such as Iowa electing its first female congresswoman. In Kentucky, Kim Davis, the woman who notoriously refused gay couples marriage licenses, was ousted as Rowan County Clerk. These elected officials have made a promise to their constituents that they will protect disenfranchised groups and fight against an administration that continues to inflict violence, racism, sexism, transphobia, and xenophobia.

Some nail-biting races have still not been called yet, such as the senator race between Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema, the first openly bisexual woman in Congress—and whom I believe may secretly be a parallel universe version of Eleanor Shellstrop, in Arizona.

The status quo

While the Democrats managed to flip the House, the Senate remained under Republican control. One of the most disappointing losses that could be felt around the country was based in Texas after Ted Cruz once again won his senate election. Beto O’Rourke, his challenger, ignited a strong base and the race was close, which at least is a sign of potential. Another disappointing and angering loss was in Florida, where Democrat Andrew Gillum lost by a 0.6 percent margin. In the highly contested governors race in Georgia, Stacey Abrams faced challenge after challenge from Governor Brian Kemp, who was essentially (and unfairly) refereeing the election as Secretary of State. Some Democrats, such as Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, lost their seats… badly. In Iowa, Steve King, a self-proclaimed white nationalist, once again won the senate race. Looking at the broader picture, the hope of the “blue wave” fades when we say the same forces at play that made the 2016 elections happen.  

What went wrong

All across the country, people had issues voting, and it seemed like no one was expecting such a large turnout. While many were excited to see the large lines outside of polls, this is a symptom of how our current voting system is failing. Voting should not be so inaccessible or difficult, and it is often lower-income and marginalized communities which face the worst levels of disenfranchisement. Along with insufficient resources, voter suppression targets these areas through gerrymandering and redistricting and ridiculous Voter ID laws, such as Georgia’s “exact match” rule. Machines breaking down in Georgia and other issues lead to last-minute lawsuits and a race which is still too close to call…all overseen by one of the candidates.

Many pointed at this election to show how it illustrated the many issues we continue to face. The opportunistic culture of shame surrounding voting by, admittedly, the Democratic elite needs to stop and we should instead focus on making voting a fair process for all (ex., maybe don’t shame a low-wage worker into voting next time you go pick up some fast food?). More insidiously, bigots and zealots continue to be elected, and having to choose between two major parties often leads to making a choice based on harm reduction rather than actual support. People in the Democratic party are tired of the faces of the establishment and are ready to embrace radical change. However, if there is one thing that this election made clear to me, it is the power of EVERYONE’S vote. Many of the races were ridiculously close, which goes to show that the millions of people who showed up to vote did make a difference.

What could it all mean?

With a split Congress, the situation is not ideal, but it is definitely a setback for Trump. Personally, the idea of “bipartisanship” in our time is worrying when there are far right forces in government. I would like to see Democrats standing for democrat and leftist values, valuing people over corporations and business, and not negotiating with racists and with peoples’ lives on the line. I would also like to see continued efforts to investigate the President now that things have shifted with Jeff Session’s resignation. Based on this past election, people in the U.S. have made clear what they want: they want healthcare, they want equality opportunity for all, as evidenced by Florida passing Amendment 4 which granted over 1 million former felons the right to vote, they want better schools and civil protections and will not stand for platforms based in fear and prejudice. While not all of the results may have ended up the way we wanted, and many show how red states will continue to be during this divided time, that does not diminish some of the incredible strides that were made. I will continue to cheer on Ocasio-Cortez and Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey, responsible for flipping the 11th district, and hope that we will see a real change until 2020 comes around.

Julia Tache

Columbia Barnard '19

Surviving the big city through caffeine.