Reflections post-2018 midterm election: how hard did the anticipated Blue Wave hit?
The 2018 midterm was argued to be one of the most significant midterm elections in recent U.S. history. As reported last week by The Tartan's Editorial Board, many of the House seats were "up for grabs, while 35 out of the 100 Senate seats [were] up for reelection." Before the poll results were released, FiveThirtyEight forecasted a "7 in 8 chance Democrats win [House] control," solidifying the prediction of an upcoming "blue wave."
With a nod to last week's piece from The Tartan Editorial Board, all three of the endorsed candidates — Tom Wolf, Bob Casey Jr., and Dan Frankel — were elected as Governor, Senator, and State Representative, respectively. Although Pennsylvania's gerrymandering had allowed a disproportionate number of Republicans to represent the state, with the recently redrawn legislative maps, Pennsylvanians got the chance to choose leaders more accurately representing them and their political beliefs in the 2018 midterms.
The extent to which the blue wave hit is arguable. Although the Senate maintains its Republican majority, we saw a massive increase in the number of minorities representing the diverse American population. 107 women were elected to the House this time around, two of whom are Muslim. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez set a new precedent for young citizens wishing to enter the political arena by becoming the youngest congresswoman at age 29. Despite these historical milestones, there are still ballot recounts and signs of voter suppression worth investigating.
In the Texas Senate race, Republican Ted Cruz narrowly beat Democratic candidate Beto O'Rourke by 2.6 percentage points. Texas elections carried problems due to faulty and outdated voting machines as well as crowded polling stations. Some voters caught on to the errors and manually changed their ballots to reflect their choice in candidates, but it is unknown how many ballots were affected. Texas, in response, blamed user error, not the faulty and outdated machines.
Texas is not the only state impacted by machine-induced errors; they may have contributed to voter suppression in Georgia as well. Republican Brian Kemp was up 1.6 percentage points over Democrat opponent Stacey Abrams, but multiple voters were turned away, had their absentee ballots rejected, or could not have their voting registration verified. Despite the close ballot count, it is unlikely that a ballot recount would swing towards Abrams’ favor, but voter suppression on even a small scale can set a dangerous precedent to the erosion of democracy.
In Florida, Broward County experienced a statistically significant undervote rate. While all other counties in Florida saw no more than a 0.8 percent difference in the number of votes cast for governor and the U.S. Senate, Broward County experienced a 3.7 percent difference. Multiple factors — including poor ballot design and, again, faulty ballot machines — could have played a role in this discrepancy. In Florida’s Senate election, Republican Rick Scott beat Democrat Bill Nelson by a mere 0.18 percentage points. Given this tight margin, Florida is facing a statewide recount.
Of course, the topic of gerrymandering pops up again. Pennsylvania was previously reported as one of the most gerrymandered states, but in 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court deemed the gerrymandered map unconstitutional. Consequently, this election saw results which were much more representative of the popular vote. In 2016, PA Democrats won 48 percent of the statewide votes in contested House elections but only won 27 percent of the seats; in 2018, Democrats earned 53 percent of the popular vote in PA while earning just under 50 percent of the contested seats. In the meantime, North Carolina — another historically gerrymandered state — saw 50.3 percent of the votes going towards Republicans, yet Republicans took 10 of 13 possible seats. This difference between the number of votes and the number of seats taken echoes that of the 2016 election, which is no surprise considering North Carolina still has the same gerrymandered districts that they had in 2016. Other states — such as Wisconsin and Michigan — were also negatively impacted by gerrymandering.
Voter suppression also influenced the midterm results. North Dakota came under fire for not allowing P.O. boxes to be used as addresses for voter IDs, disproportionately affecting the Native American population, who almost exclusively use P.O. boxes for home addresses. Additionally, Georgia’s “exact match” law barred many voters from participating in the election due to discrepancies between what is written on a registration form and what is present in state records. Although these are the two major examples that caught headlines, some other states such as Maryland, Arkansas, and Missouri have seen an increase in regulations for voter IDs required to vote.
For a country that prides itself on having free and fair elections, there seem to be quite a few examples contradicting that image. Although the end results of the midterm election are unlikely to change drastically after recounts, steps to ensure a more representative House and Senate must be taken. With the 2020 election on the horizon, these seemingly minor obstacles may add up to affect who is elected as Leader of the Free World.