No matter how you slice it, the 2018 midterm elections were historic. The next Congress will include the most women ever elected to the House of Representatives and the Senate, including the first two Muslim-American congresswomen. Early turnout estimates suggest that Tuesday’s turnout blew all previous midterms out of the water, an encouraging sign of rising voter enthusiasm and waning political apathy. Here in Michigan, voters approved two pro-democracy ballot proposals by wide margins that will prevent partisan gerrymandering and make voting easier for all Michigan residents. All of these are encouraging signs of a healthy electorate, despite President Donald Trump’s continued attacks on democratic values.
Yet Tuesday’s elections also showcased the dark side of American democracy in 2018. Voter suppression served as a major overtone throughout the Georgia gubernatorial race, where Republican candidate Brian Kemp also served as the chief election official for his own race in his role as Georgia secretary of state. Refusing to step down from his position during the election, Kemp slashed voter rolls using an exact match law that predominantly removed Black, Latinx and Asian voters from the rolls — echoing the state’s dark history of suppressing Black voters. But these barriers to casting a ballot were not specific to Georgia. Across the nation, long lines, insufficient equipment and general chaos plagued polling centers, potentially serving as a deterrent for those with a busy schedule seeking to cast their vote. Even in Detroit, some would-be voters left polling places after waiting hours for outdated voting equipment to receive maintenance. A healthy democracy requires maximal election participation. The hurdles placed in front of voters Tuesday only suppressed democratic ideals.
Though these obstacles to voting were widespread, Democrats still managed to fare quite well in many of the districts won by Trump in 2016. By ignoring Trump’s racist dog-whistling about a caravan from Central America, they achieved success by focusing on a consistent message of improving health care and policies that would benefit all Americans. This tactic worked favorably for Democrats, especially those seeking to flip suburban communities. However, they still have ways to go in appealing to working-class voters in rural areas. Given Trump’s overall popularity, and the impact his trade policy has had on rural communities, we would have hoped Democrats could have turned many of these districts blue. Despite this, Democrats should not abandon these districts and instead strive for a more unifying message that plays well in both suburbs and rural areas before the 2020 campaign. Further, the barriers to voting revealed during this election call for a more fervent push from the new Democratic House to put election reform at the top of the agenda. We hope that pro-democracy measures, such as proposed packages to mandate independent commissions to draw congressional districts and reforming the congressional ethics code become priorities for both newly elected lawmakers and incumbents. Efforts to combat voter suppression as well as a strategy to listen and take into account the needs and sentiments of rural America are vital for Democrats.
Though this election cycle has concluded, the energy we’ve seen cannot dwindle. We hope voters do not let the mixed results of 2018 discourage them from voting in the future. We’re thrilled to see the enthusiasm this election turned out on campus, and hope that it keeps college students permanently engaged. As many close elections this cycle have shown, every vote counts. Don’t let complacency get the best of you. Continue to stay educated on the issues confronting our nation and ensure your voice is heard at every opportunity.