“If you build it they will come.” A great line from the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams”, but also words that are coming to mind as the long days pass without a declared winner in the 2020 Presidential Election.
America has been waiting for a moment like this. For years — No, for decades — voter turnout at national elections has been a very small percentage of registered voters. Americans have been apathetic about the election process, with many election meaning a choice between the “lesser of two evils”, or as in the case of the 2016 election, one polarizing candidate against another polarizing candidate. The amazingly qualified Hillary Clinton won the popular vote that year with nearly 66 million votes. Donald Trump won the election, however, with just under 63 million votes — thanks to Russian interference and the electoral college.
But 2020 is different, largely due to the failures of the elected president in keeping the country safe, but also because Americans on a grand scale fear that their Democracy is slipping away.
The circumstances came together where some Americans voted for the first time in their lives (even some middle aged and senior citizen). We Americans lined up around the block to cast early votes, and either mailed our ballots (risky!) or dropped them off in approved drop boxes. And on Election Day itself, while there were some lines (due to Republicans limiting the amount of polling places), around the country people found shorter lines in many locations. For the first time in more than a century, Americans exercised their voting right in record numbers, with Joe Biden (as of this writing) getting nearly 75 million votes while Donald Trump 70.5 million. Both numbers are a record in United Stated presidential election history.
It may be painful as citizens to have to wait for accurate election results. But this is because we are used to the immediate gratification (and often disgust) of news organizations “calling” the winner before midnight on the day of the election. They have called it wrong more than once, including the 1948 election of Harry S. Truman; in the year 2000 with Bush v. Gore, and in 2016 when most of the media considered Donald J. Trump a joke and that Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in.
I had considered this election week to be painful as well, until I considered the voting rights of women United States. This year marks the 100 year anniversary of women getting the vote after decades of fighting for it. And this year it looks like the United States will have its first female Vice President in Kamala Harris.
African-American men (not women) got the right to vote following the Civil War, but the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws that incorporated things like literacy tests, counting marbles in a jar, and other forms of voter intimidation often kept them exercising their right to vote. That was until President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which provided greater protections for African-Americans and included a separate provision to protect Black voters in regions where their had been egregious cases of voter discrimination. The separate provision had to be re-authorized periodically and faced opposition from southern conservatives.
The provision in the law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 (Shelby v. Holder), reasoning that the formula in the law that protected Blacks from “tests and devices” was now unconstitutional. This strike-down, as predicted, had led to rampant attempts at voter suppression with limited polling places and other shenanigans like we have seen in 2020.
Now with coming on a quarter-million people dead from the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, the economy in shambles, systemic racism raising its ugly head, climate change affecting the entire world, and our military being referred to by its Commander-in-Chief as “losers” and “suckers”, Americans could no longer be apathetic. And I am not talking just about the political side that I agree with. Even supporters of Trump — the people that Hillary Clinton referred to as being “deplorable” — came out from under their rocks to vote. I may not agree with their ideology but I am glad that they voted.
This is the moment that our country was built for. The Founders may not have been perfect, but they knew how to create a world where we do not have to be led by a tyrant and that has survived for more than 240 years. The Founders built the system, and we came out to use it.
Waiting a few days for ballots to be counted? Not such a big deal.