By Rishi Shah
The 2020 presidential election was a pivotal moment in the history of the nation, especially for those on the threshold of adulthood. College students across the country will be affected by the new president’s policies which address issues ranging from the Covid-19 pandemic to climate change.
In the 2020 election, the major change from past elections was the higher prevalence of mail-in ballots over in-person voting due to Covid-19 safety concerns. According to CNN, 9 states (plus D.C.) automatically sent mail-in ballots to eligible registered voters and 36 allowed any voter to request a ballot to vote by mail, while 5 states required acceptable excuses to vote by mail.
According to NPR, the reason why it took so long for many key swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin to start counting mail-in ballots was that Republican-controlled legislatures in those states made minimal to no changes to election laws in order to accommodate the expected influx.
With the delay in election results due to the high volume of mail-in ballots — which numbered around 103 million according to the AP, and largely favored Democratic voters in urban areas according to NPR — President Trump was quick to claim voter fraud. Following months of allegations of voter fraud in the months leading up to the election, Trump tweeted Nov. 4 that the Democrats “are trying to STEAL the Election.” According to NPR, this tweet was labeled as misleading by Twitter and was disputed by election experts.
While President-elect Joe Biden was declared the winner of the election by major media sources like Politico, which awarded Biden 306 electoral votes, Trump continues to contest the results of the election, and has yet to concede.
His campaign has filed a plethora of lawsuits in state and federal courts in key swing states, hoping to stop the counting of ballots that they believe to be inauthentic and that arrived past Nov. 3, despite laws that allow for such ballots to be counted. According to AP, the Trump campaign has faced decisive losses in court in Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, having over 30 of their cases dropped or rejected so far.
More recently, members of the Trump administration have come out against the president’s allegations. According to CNN, Attorney General Bill Barr claimed that the Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread voter fraud, backing the claims of election security officials.
Many of the allegations of voter fraud are “unfounded, overblown or have little or unreliable evidence,” according to USA Today. Cited instances of voter fraud have been proven false, and the article notes that voting irregularities occur every election, are highly insignificant in the larger scale and are not enough to reverse the outcome of an entire state, let alone a federal election.
In an effort to quite literally make sense of this election, Dr. Daniel Bowen, Associate Professor and Department Chair of Political Science at the College, conducted a “Making Sense of the 2020 Election” Zoom event on Nov. 10. In the discussion, Bowen explained how the 2020 election was essentially a repeat of the 2016 and 2018 elections, in the sense that it was less of a referendum on Trump and more evidence of hyperpartisanship and a “coalitional” view of elections.
Bowen explained how party identification was the driving force behind voting choice. He said that college-age students were highly influenced by the political views of their parents and by negative partisanship, the dislike of the opposite party. He made it clear that the election result in 2020 was due to higher turnout amongst lower-propensity voters rather than a referendum on Trump. Bowen also acknowledged the chaos surrounding the election.
“I think we have some difficult days ahead, to be perfectly honest to everyone here. I think it’s very dangerous that the president has refused to concede the election,” he said. “I think it’s really dangerous that the GOP — at least some folks in the GOP — have enabled this and instead of standing up for the legitimacy of the election, which elected them, have at least sort of played around or, continued to dabble in these claims of illegitimacy. And that should make us angry, I think, and it should make us concerned.”
Nearly one month after Bowen expressed his thoughts on the president’s refusal to concede the election, the situation remains pretty much the same. While the General Services Administration has acknowledged Biden’s win, according to CBS, Trump continues to challenge the outcome of the election. He has gone so far as to call the governor of Georgia in an effort to convince him to overturn the results in his state, according to CNN.
Jordan Valiquette, a freshman music education major, expressed the personal impact of the election on the lives of college students.
“Most of us can agree that this election was very important, and it mattered even more to me and many other young people. As a queer, female, disabled person who’s also high risk for Covid-19, the results were a sigh of relief and a cause for celebration,” said Valiquette. “I feel much more hopeful that change is coming, though it may be two months away. However, I also know that this isn’t the end. 72 million people voted for a man who’s caused incredible harm to countless people across the world. There’s still so, so much to fight for before we can truly be a fair and equal society.”
David Mcmillan, a senior philosophy major who is also president of the College Democrats of New Jersey, offered a more blunt assessment.
“As of today, over 240,000 Americans have died due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said. “The Trump administration is spending their time claiming electoral fraud whilst Biden’s transition team is rightly preparing to save lives. Priorities matter.”
On the other hand, there were students who believed that the election was not over until all of the votes were counted and verified. One of these students was Bridget Wyllie, a junior clinical and counseling psychology major who is a self-described libertarian.
“As Americans, it is our constitutional right that we are entitled to a fair election where all legal votes are counted. There is some major evidence of election fraud. When the lawsuits are settled, we will see who the winner is. Biden or Trump, as elected by the American people, deserves the title based on a legal, fair, and constitutional outcome.”
Yet, evidence of voter fraud has still been yet to be found. The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency created a “Rumor Control” page where they debunked the notion that delays in results equated to voter fraud. The director of this agency — Chris Krebs — was fired for contradicting Trump’s allegations, according to CNN.
Despite efforts to facilitate civil discourse between members of both parties, a tremendous partisan divide still exists.
A study that was reported by TIME compared the political relations in the US to “the most toxic marriage possible.” If this toxic marriage is to be saved from divorce, both parties must take active efforts to reconcile their differences. Whether it means avoiding inflammatory rhetoric or simply distancing social identity from political identity, it is still possible to bring this relationship back from the brink of disaster.