On Tuesday, November 6, United States held their 2018 midterm elections. It was the first national election since Donald Trump became president and to many voters represented an opportunity to challenge the administration’s power. It ended up being a historic night, with the highest voter turnout in 50 years.
The United States Congress is the main legislative body of the U.S. government and is comprised of two branches, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Every state is represented by two Senators, but has different numbers of Representatives based on the state’s population. There are 100 U.S. Senators in total and the House of Representatives is never to exceed 435 representatives. Senators serve six-year terms and House Representatives serve two-year terms. Before the election Republicans held the majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, which allowed them to easily pass partisan legislation without input from the Democratic party.
Several races have yet to be called, but it’s clear that the Senate will keep its Republican majority while the House will be ruled by the Democrats. In the Senate, Republicans gained 2 seats resulting in a majority of 51 compared to 46 Democrat Senators. In the House of Representatives, Democrats gained 32 seats and currently hold the majority with 227 representatives, while the Republicans have 198 representatives. By gaining the majority in the House, Democrats will force compromise into the legislative process. Visit The New York Times for updated election results.
This election was crucial for LGBTQ+ communities who have been continuously targeted with discriminatory policies from the Trump administration. Under Trump’s direction, the Department of Defense banned trans people from serving in the Armed Forces, ignoring extensive research that shows that allowing transgender troops does not harm the military. The administration also opened a “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” within the Department of Health and Human Services, which allows employers to deny health care to LGBTQ on the grounds of religious freedom. In the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights, the Trump administration opened a “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” to defend employees refusing health care to queer people. The Department of Education reversed guidance from the Obama administration that required public schools to allow trans kids to use the bathroom matching their gender identity. In addition, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently banned staff from using the word “transgender” in official documents.
Despite these and other setbacks, the 2018 midterms offered LGBTQ communities hope for more equal representation and a louder voice in Congress. Victory Fund, a nonpartisan political action committee devoted to electing L.G.B.T. candidates, endorsed 225 candidates this election cycle, 153 of whom won their bids. In the first statewide referendum on transgender rights, Massachusetts voters chose to uphold a two-year state law protecting trans people from discrimination in public places like bathrooms, locker rooms, and hotels. The law was originally passed in 2016, but returned to the ballot when conservative activists gathered enough signatures to propose a repeal measure.
There were many historic wins and for the first time in history, more than 100 women have been elected to the House of Representatives. There are currently 10 openly LGBT members of Congress, the first time in history that number has hit double digits. Here are some of the major highlights from the 2018 midterm elections:
- At just 29 years old, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. A member of the Democratic Socialist Party, Ocasio ran on a progressive platform and unseated a powerful 10-term congressman.
- Ayanna Pressley became the first Black member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts.
- Rashida Tlaib, who ran unopposed in Michigan’s 17th district, became the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress and was one of two Muslim women elected on Tuesday.
- Ilhan Omar is the first Somali-American in Congress as well as one of the first Muslim congresswomen. She’s a former refugee who spent four years as a state legislator.
- In Colorado, Jared Polis became the first openly gay man elected governor.
- Sharice Davids became one of the first Native American congresswomen and the first lesbian congresswoman from Kansas.
- Deb Haaland shares the title of first Native American woman elected to Congress, representing New Mexico.
- Republican Marsha Blackburn became the first female senator from Tennessee.
- Janet Mills became the first female governor in Maine.
- Kyrsten Sinema became the first female Senator from Arizona and the first openly bisexual Senator.
- At 29 years old, Abby Finkenauer is also one of the youngest people ever elected to the House and is the first woman elected to Congress from Iowa.
- Jahana Hayes became the first Black woman to represent Connecticut in Congress. She and Massachusetts’ representative Ayanna Pressley are the first Black women to represent New England.
- Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia became the first Latina congresswomen to represent Texas.
- Mississippi will hold a run-off Senate race between Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy on November 27.
- Several California House races remained uncalled; mail-in ballots count as long as they are received by the Friday following the election, and officials there are working through a backlog of millions of uncounted votes.
- Governor races in Georgia and Florida have the potential to be historic, but so far neither race has been called. Former Secretary of State Brian Kemp declared victory in the gubernatorial race in Georgia, but Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams has so far refused to concede, demanding that every vote be counted. On Sunday, November 11, Abrams’ campaign announced plans to file a federal class action lawsuit to push back the date of certification from this coming Wednesday, Nov. 14, to whenever each and every ballot has been logged. Over the weekend, Kemp’s lead shrank from 50.33 percent to 50.28. If Kemp’s lead drops below 50 percent, a recount or a runoff election may be held. (source)
- In Florida, Democrat and former Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum initially conceded to former U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis, but agreed to a recount as required by Florida law when the winning margin is less than 0.5 percentage points. Once the recount is completed, if the differences are 0.25 percentage points or less, a hand recount will be ordered. A recount is also being conducted in the Florida Senate race between Republican Governor Rick Scott and Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. (source)
How to get involved?
Voting is important, but it’s only one form of activism. We should celebrate the victories of this election by committing to remain engaged. Continue elevating the voices and supporting the work of WOC, BIPOC, LGBTQ, immigrants, and refugees. Be mindful about where you spend your dollars and the type of businesses you support. Look into local organizations to find out how you can assist ongoing efforts.
You can find out who your senators and representatives are by texting the word “Congress” to Resistbot on Messenger, Twitter, Telegram, or to 50409 on SMS. Get familiar with your representatives’ platforms and stay up-to-date on how they vote. Resistbot is a free service that allows you to send letters to your representatives in under two minutes.
#GivingTuesday is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving when citizens are encouraged to share some of their holiday cheer with nonprofit and other community organizations. Many organizations will match donations received on this day so it’s a great way to make your contribution go further.
Follow these activists to stay informed on a range of issues:
Shaun King – Social/racial justice activist
Patrice Cullors – Co-founder of Black Lives Matter
Allen Salway – Native American writer and activist
Alicia Garza – Co-founder of Black Lives Matter
Opal Tometi – Co-founder of Black Lives Matter
Tarana Burke – Founder of the #MeToo Movement
Ericka Hart – Sex educator and racial/social/gender justice activist
Alok Vaid-Menon – Gender nonconforming performance artist and writer
Johanna Toruño – Visual artist and creator of The Unapologetically Brown Series
Erika Andiola – Immigration rights activist
Ai-Jen Poo – Domestic workers advocate and immigration activist