Democrats now form the majority of the United States House of Representative for the first time in eight years. Meanwhile, in the Senate, Republicans have not only maintained their majority, but also secured a few more seats. With a historic midterm voter turnout of a projected 113 million, the 2018 midterm election served the American people as an ideological battleground, and in some ways a practice test for the upcoming 2020 presidential election.
As a country the United States is as divided as ever. In Florida, the notorious swing state, the race for the Senate seat between Republican Rick Scott and the Incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson is too close to call. In Arizona, third-party candidate voting is probably keeping former Green Party activist-turned-Democrat Kyrsten Sinema up at night. She is currently trailing Republican candidate for the Arizona Senate Martha McSally by 1%, and the Green Party candidate is carrying 2.2% of votes.
This election has also served as a platform for some historic firsts. Not only were there many victories for women in politics, but also for the LGBTQ+ community and people of color. Jared Polis became the first openly gay man to be elected, Sharice Davids of Kansas and Debra Haaland of New Mexico are the first Native American Congresswomen to be elected, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan are the first Muslim Congresswomen. These are just a few of the names who made national firsts, not to mention state firsts.
As far as legislation, two amendments were made to state constitutions relating to the reform of the criminal justice system. In Florida voters passed Amendment 4, restoring ex-felons of their right to vote. This amendment ensures that those who have served their time do not suffer disproportionately, by either temporary or permanently losing the ability to vote. With this new legislation in play over one million people will be re-enfranchised. In Florida, where every vote could swing the state from red to blue or back again, these votes will be something to watch.
The second piece of legislation relating to social justice reform was an amendment to the Colorado State Constitution that officially bans prison slavery. This amendment is a poignant commentary on the United States Constitution’s Thirteenth Amendment which abolished slavery, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” This loophole in the 13th Amendment has been used to further the interests of corporations over individuals and, as incarceration disproportionately involves black and Latino people, prison labor does as well. In Ava Duvernay's documentary, 13th, she makes a vivid and compelling argument that this loophole has enabled a new form of slavery and oppression to take hold of people of color in the United States. Colorado’s new amendment may reflect changing public opinion on the necessity of maintaining the clause that enables prison labor in the U.S. Constitution.
As vote counts and recounts continue across the country, the new shape of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives will take shape, begging many new questions of Congress. How will the new Democrat-majority House serve as a check on the Trump administration? How will the Trump administration respond? Will the country see new, collaborative efforts towards bipartisanship, or will division continue to plague the trajectory of United States politics? And, the question we are all asking, what will happen in 2020?