Opinion

STAFF EDITORIAL: Voter Turnout Broke Records — We Need to Keep That Momentum

Left: Courtesy of Gage Skidmore, Right: Courtesy of U.S. Embassy of Jerusalem"Low voter turnout can’t simply be brushed off as the result of an apathetic populace, but as a symptom of what makes voters apathetic: weak and ineffectual candidates," The Phoenix Editorial Board writes.

Records were broken this year. Some sobering — such as COVID-19 infections and deaths —  but others offered a glimmer of hope in dire times. 

While votes are still being counted, this election saw record voter turnout with around 160 million people who voted, according to recent estimates. 

Now that the Associated Press (AP) and other news agencies have called the race for former Vice President Joe Biden, he’s on track to get the most votes ever at 80 million, according to an NPR article. The second most votes for a candidate goes to his opponent, President Donald Trump. 

Even though it’s still too early to get exact demographic data on the breakdown of this election, AP reported Colorado, Nevada and Oregon saw increased turnout in young and non-white voters. Despite the additional challenges posed by the pandemic, these trends show promising possibilities about political literacy and engagement. 

However, while the lead up to this election created the right conditions for such a high voter turnout, the country shouldn’t be on the brink of collapse to get people to vote. Looking at the exit polls from CNN, 68 percent of respondents who identified as Biden voters reported voting “against [Biden’s] opponent,” rather than for Biden himself.

Rather than voting for Biden on the merits of his policies, many people appeared to vote for him as a means to defeat Trump. This distinction is troublesome. 

The immediate threat of Trump was defeated, but we can’t preclude the possibility of Trump-style politicians wreaking havoc. We’ve already seen several Democratic House of Representatives seats lost to Republicans, with at least one representative-elect espousing belief in the baseless QAnon conspiracy. 

With the Senate majority set to be determined in a January run-off in Georgia and a narrower majority in the House, Biden’s first term as president won’t be smooth sailing. GOP representatives in both houses of Congress — now emboldened by Trump’s tenure — will long outlast the outcome of this election. 

Voter turnout needs to maintain or grow from this year’s record-breaking numbers if any significant change is to come from the electoral process. Biden’s win is but a momentary sigh of relief. 

Is it a little early to be thinking about the 2022 midterms with one of the most highly anticipated American elections closing out just a few days ago? We don’t think so. The Biden win shouldn’t be seen as the end of a story, but rather the start of a new one. 

Even in a time when everything seems up-in-the-air, voters, candidates and parties need to redirect this momentum to the midterms. The often-ignored primaries also have to be taken seriously, and those up for reelection would be wise to listen to their constituents or risk a primary loss. 

Voters need to be energized, but for the right reasons. We can’t survive another election voting for someone simply to stop their opponent. We need candidates with platforms and policies derived from and for the benefit of the people.

Low voter turnout can’t simply be brushed off as the result of an apathetic populace, but as a symptom of what makes voters apathetic: weak and ineffectual candidates. If we want to see greater voter turnout, it’s time to stop presenting lesser-of-two-evils candidates. 

Sitting back and putting on blinders won’t lead to long-lasting change. For many of us who might have just voted for the first time, our journey of political action and advocacy is just getting started.

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