The 2018 midterm election season proved to be fertile ground for civic engagement and cause for optimism about the future of our democracy. Record numbers of voters headed to the polls and voted like the selection of a president was on the line, as opposed to the sleepy response midterm elections usually elicit.
In fact, CBS News estimates that 113 million Americans performed their civic duty and voted in these midterm elections, making this the first midterm in our history that tallied 100 million votes. Proving political cynics wrong, 49 percent of the eligible electorate voted, vastly surpassing the 36.4 percent who participated in 2014 and the 41 percent who voted during the 2010 midterm election season.
“In the last three decades, we’ve had about 40 percent of those eligible to vote participating in midterm elections,” said Michael McDonald, the supervisor of the University of Florida Elections Project. Furthermore, “you’d have to go all the way back to 1914 to get a turnout rate above 50 percent.”
Complete statistics won’t be available for several weeks, but even Tennessee, typically one of the worst voting states, improved its’ early voting statistics by a whopping 216.9 percent. Nashville’s vote totals, including Election Day, revealed that approximately 60 percent of eligible voters turned out in a showing that almost matched 2016’s presidential election.
And voter turnout wasn’t limited to gray beard and middle age voters either. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, 31 percent of voters between the ages of 18-29 cast their ballot in these midterms, a 10 percent jump from their 2014 performance.
This outstanding turnout by civically engaged young voters proved to be critically beneficial to Democrats, who they favored by nearly 35 points, and to the record 119, and counting, female members of the House and Senate. That number bursts the previous record of 107 women in Congress, according to USA Today. The new House will also include 32 first-time congresswomen, beating the previous record of 24, elected in the 1992 “Year of the Woman” election. Among this wave of victorious women are 29 year-olds Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York and Iowa’s Abby Finkenauer, the two youngest women ever to be elected to Congress.
Freshmen women of color will also have their largest representation in Congress next year with at least 11 new members elected, reports the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Brenda Choresi Carter, director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign said that “this is a story about women across the racial spectrum challenging the establishment and the norms and the expectations of what’s possible.”
The momentum that crested to these historic voting heights began two years ago with the huge Women’s March in Washington, D.C., an event that motivated many voter registration organizations and the founders of BriteHeart to create civic engagement platforms that successfully registered thousands of new voters across the country.
Progressive intensity increased with the long overdue #MeToo movement that empowers sexual assault victims. The outrageous display of white nationalism in Charlottesville, Virginia, which resulted in the murder of a peaceful counter protester, further energized concerned voters sickened by the violence and overt racism that was unmasked. A massacre at a Parkland, Florida school propelled high energy, politically savvy students to start the March For Our Lives movement for gun control and lead the charge that ultimately defeated 27 candidates supported by the NRA.
The killings of unarmed black men by police further swelled the ranks of citizens wanting to make positive changes in our democracy, peacefully at the ballot box. Nashville’s easy passage, with 59 percent of the vote, of an amendment that calls for the establishment of a Community Oversight Board to oversee police arrests and actions is further testimony to a more civically involved populace.
All of these issues contributed to the record setting civic engagement of younger voters, female voters, independent voters and voters of color who turned the House of Representatives back into Democratic control with their voter registration efforts and their votes. As of this writing, 85 of the 97 women elected to the House are Democrats, including 31 of the 32 freshmen.
Voters also spoke loudly on November 6th that they wanted more culturally diverse representation that welcomes immigrants to our country and doesn’t have a problem with Muslims in high office. They also voiced their disgust with the current administration’s politics of hate, misogyny and corruption. They signaled that they will not idly stand on the sidelines while gerrymandering and voter suppression unfairly tilts the playing field and as head-in-the-sand climate change deniers refuse to act in defense of our planet’s environment.
And voters shouted to the rooftops that they are terrified of the gun violence that has overwhelmed America and are demanding that we reclaim our streets from the violence that has escalated under the disinterested eyes of NRA-backed politicians.
With votes still being counted, and election recounts soon to come, the call for change has been validated with the Democrats’ probable gain of 40 House seats (according to Cook Political Report’s House editor David Wasserman), their largest increase since Watergate.
The bottom line: Our democracy is alive and well. The voters have spoken and they don’t like what they see coming out of our nation’s capital. Accountability, diversity and a check on the current administration’s anti-democratic impulses won. If it seems that Lady Liberty is holding her torch just a little bit higher today, don’t worry, you’re not fantasizing. She is.