Record turnout in midterm elections as parties split control of Congress

One hundred-and-thirteen million Americans voted in the midterm elections – a record number in an election cycle that also marked several other firsts.

It is the first midterm in U.S. history in which over 100 million people voted. This represents 49 percent of those eligible to vote, according to CBS News.

SGA President Ben Carrington said, “I was shocked and amazed that this was the highest voter turnout for a midterm election in over 50 years – especially from people in our generation. It shows that people want change.”

By comparison, only 36.4 percent of eligible voters voted in the 2014 midterms during then-president Barack Obama’s second term, as reported by CBS News.

Joseph Coelho, FSU political science professor, said the high turnout showed “that American citizens are worried about the direction of the country, despite a growing economy.”

Democrats Sharice Davids of Kansas and Deb Haaland of New Mexico will become the first Native American women elected to Congress.

Democrats Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar will become the first Muslim women in Congress – elected by Michigan and Minnesota, respectively.

In Colorado, Democrat Jared Polis will become the first openly gay man elected governor.

Christopher McCarthy-Latimer, FSU political science chair, said although “the results for Republicans and Democrats were the focus because of Trump’s leadership,” change in the form of “more diverse government was very important.”

Stephanie Bennett, SGA senate chair and president of the Framingham chapter of IGNITE, said, “A record number of women are heading to Congress. From the Women’s March, #MeToo, to the TimesUp movement, women have collectively risen to support one another as intersectional feminists. … A range of diverse voters made their voices heard with a cast of their ballot.”

IGNITE is a nationwide organization that encourages women to become political leaders.

Looking at the big picture, Democrats flipped 35 seats in the House of Representatives so far, giving them a majority and control of the lower body of Congress.

However, Republicans gained a Senate seat and thus retained control of the upper body of Congress.

Elisabeth Lee, an FSU graduate nutrition student, said she is hopeful because a split Congress could give “Democrats a chance to exercise checks and balances on the party in power.”

Seven congressional races are still undecided as of Thursday, Nov. 15 – among these are Senate contests in Florida and Mississippi.Georgia’s gubernatorial race also remains undecided.

David Smailes, FSU political science professor, said while “it is historically common for the president’s party to lose seats during midterm elections,” Democratic control of the House will nonetheless “be significant to our politics.”

Smailes wondered whether newly elected congressmen will challenge older Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi, current House minority leader, to change the party agenda.

He said this would “make the new Democratic majority in the House an even more significant change, but could also spark some of the disagreements that have divided House Republicans in recent years.”

At the state level, incumbent Republican Governor Charlie Baker was re-elected in a landslide victory with 66.9 percent of the vote.

In his victory speech on Tuesday, Nov. 6, Baker showed respect for his opponent, Democrat Jay Gonzalez. Baker said, “No one knows better than me what it’s like to leave a job you love, campaign for 18 months across this Commonwealth, and come up short on Election Day. It stinks.”

Gonzalez previously served as President and CEO of CeltiCare Health and New Hampshire Healthy Families before launching his campaign for governor in January 2017, according to his campaign website.

Baker said of his opponent, “He made this campaign a discussion and a debate and a conversation about the issues, not about the personalities.”

He added both candidates worked “hard to make sure the people of Massachusetts had a chance to hear both sides and then make the call.”

Coelho said it was no surprise that Baker won “convincingly,” as “Gonzalez has little name recognition around Massachusetts.”

“Baker represents a type of Republican that is near extinction in America: socially liberal, fiscally conservative. That’s fine for Massachusetts, but he wouldn’t survive in a Republican primary if he ever ran for the presidency,” Coelho said.

In her Senate re-election bid, Democrat Elizabeth Warren also won big.

Warren took 60.3 percent of the statewide vote and said she “plans to ‘take a hard look’ at a presidential run” in the future, according to The Washington Post.

In her victory speech, Warren persistently invoked the imagery of women from diverse backgrounds coming together to engage in politics and “build alliances with the men who also want to make real change in this country.

“Women who had never run for anything before stepped up to put their names on the ballot. … They ignored party bosses who said they should wait their turn. They ignored consultants who said they should cover up their tattoos and smile more. … They refused to let anyone shut them up or stand in their way,” Warren said.

The newly elected Congress will have 112 women representatives. This number is an all-time high, but it is across both houses of Congress – which have a cumulative 535 members.

Bennett said, “Are women still underrepresented in Congress? Without a doubt. Women make up more than 50 percent of the country and make up only 21 percent of Congress.”

“Despite the numbers,” she said, “the increase of women in office is inevitably going to inspire other young women to consider indulging in politics.”

Voters also elected Democratic representatives in all nine congressional districts of Massachusetts.

Four of the candidates ran unopposed, including Joe Kennedy and Ayanna Pressley, while the remaining five won with an average of 66 percent of the district vote.

Question 1, the ballot question that would have set a maximum number of patients assigned to nurses, failed.

Question 2, however, passed. It will require a 15-person commission of Massachusetts residents to explore a course to repeal the 2016 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court ruling.

The eventual goal of this measure, a constitutional amendment barring corporations from spending unlimited funds on political campaigns, is seen as a long shot – meaning this vote is largely “symbolic,” according to WBUR News.

Question 3 also passed, upholding the 2016 anti-discrimination law that allows people to use bathrooms and other facilities that correspond with their gender identity.

Opposition to the law centered on the notion that it could make it easier for men to spy and prey on women and girls.

In reality, this is exceedingly rare.

Massachusetts General Hospital doctors published a study last summer in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, which identified 14 known cases of straight men posing as women in bathrooms and locker rooms across the U.S.

Junior Madison Bruno said, “My immediate response to Question 3 passing was relief. The protections enacted by that law are essential human rights for our transgender friends.

“However, the fact that around 32 percent of voters checked off ‘no’ and wanted to repeal the bill is still incredibly scary to think about. Had an overwhelming amount of people voted ‘no’ on Question 3, our transgender friends would have been dehumanized [and] made subject to public harassment – an action that would not just be confined to bathrooms,” Bruno added.

She also warned against treating the passing of Question 3 as the “end to dehumanization.”

Bruno said, “The transgender community goes through so much in order to simply exist on a daily basis!”

Coelho said the midterms represented “lots of firsts, but the role of women in this election, and the large number of women elected to office, stands out in particular.”

He added, “As for the blue wave, it was one of the biggest swings in Democratic party history since Watergate.”

McCarthy-Latimer disagreed. He said, “It was not a ‘blue wave.’ However, the number of women who ran and won was significant.”

Bennett said, “The midterm elections demonstrate that women are making great strides on a pale blue canvas that is desperate for shades of diverse colors.”

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