Five Takeaways from Election 2016

November 17, 2016

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AAUW Vice President of Government Relations and Advocacy Lisa Maatz discussed the general election and more in a conference call with members.

The seemingly never-ending 2016 election is finally over, and it was one for the record books. It was a year fraught with controversial candidates, positions, statements, and tweets — one that saw an uptick in voter interest and engagement but then a major decline in voter turnout. It was an election that saw increased levels of anxiety among voters as well as incidents of bullying in schools.

One important takeaway I have about this election is that candidates did speak to issues affecting women and families. Remember in the first presidential debate when both candidates had mentioned equal pay AND child care in the first five minutes? While America, and the world respectively, try to process last week’s outcome, I’m here to help you nurse your election season hangover with a few takeaways to mull over.

1. 2016 Shocker

No one saw this coming. Reading the polls and looking at early voting and registration numbers, who could have guessed it? For the first time ever, America elected a president with no background in politics or public service, who touted his role as a business leader as his main qualification for office. All most Americans have to go on is the controversial racist, sexist, and xenophobic language President-elect Donald Trump used on the campaign trail.

While campaign rhetoric is one thing and governing is another, we do have to continue to hold Trump accountable for his behavior both during the campaign and after. AAUW, along with the rest of the country, will be waiting with bated breath to see what we can expect from the Trump administration and the appointees who will make up his cabinet. We believe personnel is policy. We will continue to speak truth to power as we have for 135 years and will act as valuable allies or fierce critics, depending on what’s warranted at the time.

2. Congress Stays the Same, Mostly

capitol dome

The GOP ended the night still controlling both chambers of Congress. Remember, this is the Congress we had before; it hasn’t changed that much.

We will still be focusing on AAUW policy priorities. Women are still facing unequal pay and calling for relief through the Paycheck Fairness Act and Pay Equity for All Act. Students are still waiting for real action on college affordability and high student debt, and they expect a continued commitment to combating campus sexual assault. Working families are still looking for good jobs with paid family and medical leave and other workplace equity policies. And Americans still don’t have the basic necessity of a full Supreme Court.

Interesting fact to remember: Vice President-elect Mike Pence was a U.S. representative for more than a decade and knows the ins and outs of the process. The vice president-elect looks to be a major player in a Trump presidency, but it’ll be interesting to see what his impact will be on policy and if Trump administration priorities will line up with Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) and those of other House Republicans.

3. Good Night for Women in the Senate

U.S. Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (D.-Ill.) is the keynote speaker at the 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Veterans’ Day Observance.

U.S. Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (D.-Ill.) is the keynote speaker at the 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Veterans’ Day Observance. Photo credit:
U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Flickr. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Women did make impressive gains in Senate representation this cycle. In 2017, there will be 21 women serving in the U.S. Senate — the highest number in history. The chamber will also feature a record number of women of color. Senators-elect Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) made history by becoming the first Thai American, first Latina, and first biracial woman, respectively, to serve in the Senate.

4. AAUW-Supported Ballot Initiatives Did Well

A wallet opened to show a dollar bill inside

Image by Gene Han, Flickr Creative Commons

Ballot measures related to AAUW’s priority issues had a pretty successful night. Voters in Maine, Colorado, Washington, and Arizona voted to increase their state minimum wages. Arizona and Washington also approved new paid sick leave programs. In Missouri, a ballot question on raising the cigarette tax to help fund a school voucher scheme failed. But it was disappointing to see that the state passed a measure requiring government-issued photo IDs in future elections. Alaska passed an initiative to automatically register all qualified voters when applying for a Permanent Fund dividend. In addition, California passed a number of AAUW-supported ballot initiatives, including wins for community college funding and improving health coverage for low-income Californians.

These ballot initiatives serve as reminders that it’s not only candidates that matter on the ballot each election cycle.

5. Voter Suppression Tactics in Motion

Sign pointing toward election polls with cancelled written over it.

Photo credit: Voter Suppression Trend NC by Democracy Chronicles. Flickr. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License Generic.

I’m sure I wasn’t alone at 10 p.m. on election night wondering why there were so many states too close to call amid reports about polls going haywire. From miles-long early voting lines to extended voting hours due to Election Day glitches, many would-be voters saw their right to vote stymied at every turn. This wasn’t a complete surprise since it is the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, states have been emboldened to pass harmful voting restrictions in response to discredited claims of voter fraud.

All told, in 2016, 14 states had new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election, and many amount to a return to the poll tax, which disenfranchised so many would-be voters. Politicians should not be allowed to choose their electorate — or to manipulate it in a way that not only silences voters’ voices but affects the outcome.

You can show your support for enhanced voting rights by urging your member of Congress to cosponsor the Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore the protections of the VRA and ensure equal access to the ballot box in all future elections.



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By:   |   November 17, 2016