by Josh Silva
Graphic by Zeyada Negasi
On November 3rd, an ever polarized electorate sat on the edge of their seats, quickly turning to fear or joy when the election results from Florida first poured in. Both sides soon shifted to uncertainty, which has now dissolved into – despite President Trump’s cries of fraud and threats of lawsuits – a comfortable victory for Biden.
The one constant factor in this sea of uncertainty was voter turnout. Experts and pundits predicted it to reach a record high this season, primarily due to the more widespread distribution of absentee ballots making voting easier; states such as California and New Jersey sent them to all eligible voters and states such as Wisconsin and Michigan automatically sent mail-in ballot applications (Ballotpedia). Due to the president’s repeated decrying of mail-in ballots, a majority of Republicans voted in person, while the ongoing pandemic led a majority of Democrats to vote in absentia. Overall, 101 million people voted by mail.
This stark partisan disparity between mail-in and in-person votes cast a mirage over swing states’ election results. In states like Florida, North Carolina and Ohio, which began counting absentee ballots prior to election day, Biden began with strong leads that in-person Republican votes soon eclipsed. In contrast, the rust belt states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania only began counting mail-ins after polls closed, giving Trump a commanding lead that Biden narrowly edged out in all three states. This slow ballot-counting process gave Trump ample time to cry foul. He prematurely declared victory on election night and subsequently demanded that states in which he lost stop counting absentee ballots. After a Biden victory seemed all but imminent, CNN declared him the winner on November 7th, and all of the reputable media soon followed. As of now, Trump still refuses to concede, and other prominent Republicans, including Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz, have defended him. Tiffany Martin, a Las Lomas parent and long-time poll worker, says, “Trump’s refusal to allow a peaceful transfer of power puts our country in jeopardy. And sadly, it is very damaging to our democracy.”
Some pundits also predicted that this turnout would lead to a “Blue Wave,” ensuring a landslide for Biden, a Democratic net gain in the House of Representatives, and a Democratic retaking of the Senate. None of these projections transpired. While Biden currently leads by 4 million votes, Democrats only acquired two of the four seats needed to flip the Senate and are on track to lose ten House seats. Democrats are now looking to Georgia, where both senate races will advance to a runoff in January after no candidate garnered the required 50% to win. Democrat Raphael Warnock led with 33% against a split Republican vote in Georgia’s special election, while Republican incumbent David Perdue only led challenger Jon Ossof by 1.6%.
Bloomberg magazine estimated that turnout will reach between 157.1 million and 165 million votes, or 68.6-72.1% of the voting-age population, an increase of 12.9-16.4% from 2016, placing this election at the highest turnout since 1900. Minnesota, Colorado, and New Hampshire saw the largest statewide turnouts, reaching 80.7%, 77.6% and 76.5%, respectively.
One of the largest surges in turnout was among young voters. According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 51-53% of 18-29-year-olds voted, compared to the 42-44% who voted in 2016, and exit polls show that 62% voted for Biden. Such turnout helped him in key swing states such as Arizona, where youth voters went for Biden by a 28% margin, and in Georgia, the state with the highest percentage of youths in the nation, which Biden took by a slim margin.
Nico Wells, a junior at Las Lomas, is one such example of an increasingly politically-engaged young person. In addition to having a passion for climate change and racial equality, Wells worked at a polling station at the high school for 15 hours. He believes that the rise in youth turnout signals a politically active Generation Z: “I think our generation will continue to stay as engaged…in politics as they were this year. Our generation seems to be more aware of current events and issues. Most of these issues [such as climate change and racial equality] can be directly affected or changed by politics, and Gen Z will vote for who is more likely to help them out.” Martin agrees: “The youth turnout is very encouraging…We need [young voters’] help in holding our elected officials accountable.”
The convenience of absentee voting will likely continue the rise in turnout throughout subsequent elections. This, combined with a growing and Democratic youth electorate could shift the balance of congress away from its current position. But regardless of the results, this increasingly empowered generation will return to the polls come November 2022 with the same desire for change.