By Alex Durham
My immediate reaction after checking the polls late Tuesday night was a mix of shock and anger. Shock because it looked like the Democrats were being swept across the board, and anger because my home state, Georgia, looked like it was on the path to electing Brian Kemp (R) as its governor.
I could hardly believe it. After seeing the tidal wave of support for Kemp’s opponent, Stacey Abrams (D), during the primary and leading into the election, I was feeling extremely good about her chances to get elected. Even in areas outside of Atlanta that are the state’s more Republican areas, it seemed like there was an outpouring of support for Abrams. Despite all of that, the polls showed Abrams down by several percentage points late into the evening.
But then I had to think about everything Kemp did leading up to the election to stop people from voting. The blatant attempts to deter voters from going to the polls by having his office launch an investigation into the Democratic party for allegedly “hacking” the polling machines, the fact that he purged tens of thousands of voters from voter rolls so they wouldn’t be able to cast their ballots come election day, and the fact that on election day, polling machines in majority African American neighborhoods conveniently didn’t have their power cords, causing hundreds of people to have to wait several hours in line just so they could vote.
Remembering all that Kemp had done to inconvenience voters of Georgia made me realize that I couldn’t just lose hope in Stacey because she was behind in the polls. I had to wait for every last ballot to come in. Three days later, the election is within four-tenths of a percent of a recount as more and more absentee and provisional ballots are being counted.
Through my anger at Georgia for voting so heavily in favor of Kemp, I’ve been in awe at the number of people advocating for Stacey and making sure people are checking their ballot statuses. Friends from across the nation are posting on social media about how to check your ballot status. I’ve received several calls about whether or not I’ve checked my absentee ballot status and there are people knocking on doors all across the state to let people know the elections are not over yet. Watching this unfold has been heartwarming, really, because it shows how even in the face of imminent defeat people have rallied to give it one last push.
This has helped stave off some of the sadness I was feeling Tuesday night. There were the first Native American women elected to congress, the first Muslim women in congress, the first openly gay man elected as governor, the first lesbian mother in Congress and many more firsts. This, coupled with the news that Democrats took control of the house, made for a much better overall view of the elections for me. Trump will now have a harder time pushing legislation through, and the Democrats in Congress can use their new leverage over Trump to protect some of the Obama-era legislation that still exists.
When observed under that light, things seem much more optimistic. Heading into these midterms it felt like Democrats were playing the long game, hoping to win the House not just for the offensive benefits, but to be able stave off the slew of legislation Trump undoubtedly would have crammed through the legislature had he won both the House and the Senate. Now, with the House in hand, Democrats will be biding their time to see how things develop heading into the next presidential election.
This long game is a strategic play, but one can only hope there are some immediate changes, or at least attempts at immediate change. One issue at the forefront of many Democratic representatives’ agendas, especially after the tragedies at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the bar in Thousand Oaks, is gun control. After the Thousand Oaks shooting, Democrats across the nation spoke out about how they plan to propose new gun legislation as soon as they can. This issue also shows the importance of the governor elections, as Democrats were hoping to strengthen gun control on the state level as well as the federal level. The discussion of gun control further highlights one of the reasons Brian Kemp is such a backwards candidate to elect in Georgia. He is one of the most pro-second amendment candidates in the nation, even running an ad showing him sitting in his house with several guns surrounding him and a shotgun pointed at a teenager sitting next to him to show his love of guns.
While in the grand scheme of things there are many positives coming out of the midterms, I don’t think I am completely content with what happened. For now, though, I will be keeping a close eye on the recounts in Florida and Georgia, holding my breath and hoping that we can add African-American woman governor to the list of firsts that come out of the midterms.
Contact Alex Durham at ahdurham ‘at’ stanford.edu.