The 2018 midterm elections brought forth a series of firsts: the first Native American women elected to Congress, the first openly gay governor and the first midterm election to exceed 100 million votes, according to CNN. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar became the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Tennessee and Arizona elected their first female senators, Connecticut elected its first Black female congressperson and Texas elected its first two Hispanic women to Congress, all according to CNN. This midterm election cycle showcased clearly what can happen when people turn out to vote and get excited about participating in our political system.
Voter turnout rates skyrocketed in this election cycle compared to that of years past. CNN reported that in 2014, voter turnout was at 36.4 percent, while this year, turnout is predicted to be at 49 percent. This election cycle inspired many citizens who usually would not have participated to vote, particularly millennials (voters ages 18-29). According to CBS, in 2014 only 19.9 percent of this age demographic voted, whereas this year it is estimated that 36 percent turned out.
So why did voter turnout increase so much in this election cycle? As Willamette first-year student Amelia Maass theorized, “Trump has been such a polarizing figure for our country, it motivated people to share their voice more than in the past.”
This election year came with a lot of encouragement to have people get out and vote. Between pushes on social media, voter registration booths on campuses and at highly populated events and countless articles explaining the importance of voting, the public was constantly persuaded to participate in our democracy.
Here at Willamette, professors encouraged students to vote and registration booths were set up on campus in order to increase voter turnout among students.
First-year student Nia Lopez-Salmons reflected on this phenomenon. “The media played a huge role in this. [I] saw big name brands saying how they will be closed during the polls and that Uber and Lyft were offering free rides making the overall accessibility easier for people.”
Along with all this encouragement to vote, there was also a push for flipping the House of Representatives to have a Democratic majority. This was well received as, based on a New York Times report, Democrats gained 32 new seats, only needing to gain 23 to achieve the majority.
With this increase in voter turnout came a more accurate representation of the American people in Congress. There was an overwhelming election of women and minorities into the House, Senate and local and state offices. According to CNN, the House now has over 100 women, an increase of about 35 from the previous Congress. Election night also came with many wins for people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. Though Congress is still very white and male dominant, steps in the right direction were made this election night.
Though we as a country still have a long way to go in terms of achieving equality and representation for women, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks and religious minorities, the 2018 midterm election showed that some progress is being made, and showcased what we can do if we get out and vote.