The midterm elections of November 2018 demon-strated that our democracy works. One key element of American democracy is the active participation of citi-zens in the selection of their elected representatives. This selection or voting requires that citizens be informed and engaged in civic debate and in discussions that dif-ferentiate the candidates’ position on important issues.
Our democracy also works best when political tolerance is practiced and the rights of minorities are guaranteed. The major take-away from the 2018 midterm elections are that women and minori-ties participated and won elections in record numbers. A second take-away is that the two party system is healthy and no one political party has dominant control of all three branches of the federal government.
The active participation of the two party system is important in that it assures the proper operation of our checks and balances system of government. There is often a delicate balance in the separation of powers. This year the Democrat’s majority numbers in the House of Representatives keeps one party from con-trolling all three branches of federal government–the Presidency, the Senate, and the House of Representa-tives.
Democracy has evolved over the past two centuries for the better. Voting, for example, is a privilege that initially was not extended to all citizens. Our forefathers did not envision women or African-Americans ever voting, but today they not only vote, they, along with the Latino vote, made a dif-ference in many of the con-tested congressional races.
In politics, change is also inevitable, although change can take decades, as in the case of the 39th Congres-sional District in Orange County. When Gil Cisneros ran as a Democrat in Orange County this November, he knew he was bucking the trend among voters who had never chosen a Latino and had for many decades voted for Republican candidates. Indeed, some districts in that part of Southern California had not elected a Democrat since the 1930s.
Cisneros, a retired Navy officer from Yorba Linda, Richard Nixon country, was not your typical political candidate. He ran for office with the intent of funding much of his campaign with personal funds. Unlike most Latino candidates, he had no shortage of funds, spending some of the $266 million dollars that he had won through lottery jackpot winnings. He understood that one of the key elements of a democracy is not just voting, but also serving. He kept his message simple, commit to a strong military and good health care. Cis-neros won after more than a week of recounting votes. All the former Republican congressional districts of Orange County also turned blue in 2018 as Democrats won all five districts.
However, one of the big-gest upset victories of the 2018 midterm elections was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ defeat of the incumbent Congressman, Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley from the 14th congressional district which includes the Bronx and Queens in New York City. Over the past seven elections Crowley had not drawn an opponent in the primaries.
Ocasio-Cortez showed promise as a high school student winning a prize for her microbiology research and having a small asteroid named after her: 23238 Ocasio Cortez. While in high school she developed a Central Texas connec-tion attending a prominent leadership program at the National Hispanic Institute (NHI) in Maxwell, Texas near Austin. She excelled in the Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session. At the NHI she learned about the workings of gov-ernment and honed her skills in public speaking and de-bate.
Over the next four years she attended Boston Uni-versity, graduating with honors, and earning degrees in economics and inter-national relations. With a college degree in hand, she moved back to the Bronx and worked as an educa-tor with the Texas based National Hispanic Institute and established a small publishing firm specializ-ing in children’s literature. In 2016 she worked as an organizer for Bernie Sand-ers’ presidential campaign, learning the value of work-ing long hours and knocking on doors.
In her congressional cam-paign, her opponent out spent her by a ratio of 18-1. She made sure everyone knew of her policy com-mitments, which included healthcare, free college tu-ition, immigration reform, impeachment of President Trump, and criminal justice reform. At age 29, Oca-sio-Cortez is the youngest woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress.
The election of Gil Cisne-ros and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez show that voters often see change as good, and electing the best po-litical candidates is always the main goal. But we cannot take democracy for granted. The national elec-tions of the 21st century show that democracy fails us when obstacles are placed between the voter and the ballot. For example, many American Indians in North Dakota were denied the vote because they lacked a home street address, even though it was well known by local officials who made that decision that American Indians live on reservation lands where such addresses are not commonly used. The election officials refused to accept post office box numbers which the local people rely on. To insure that we honor the principle of “Government by the people,” voting must be made easier and rules should be reasonable and nondis-criminatory.
In Texas, there were also many reports of voter sup-pression during the mid-terms. Writing for the Texas Observer, Michael Barajas’ noted that “Civil rights groups accuse Texas of implementing a layer-cake of voter suppression tech-niques.” Election officials, he found, restricted the voting hours for college students, barred translators from polling places, and failed to replace aging vot-ing machines.
The ACLU of Texas looked into voter suppres-sion and found that voter intimidation was one of the main threats to the voting rights of minority commu-nities. This intimidation in-cluded “aggressively ques-tioning voters about their citizenship, criminal record, or other qualifications to vote, in a manner intended to interfere with the voters’ rights.” The ACLU also reported harassment toward non-English speakers and disabled voters. In many instances election officials made it difficult for voters in minority communities to find their polling locations.
Our democracy has sur-vived political scandals, civil war, economic depres-sions, and foreign wars, but democracy can be weakened by widespread suppres-sion of voting rights. The intimidation of voters and other forms of voter sup-pression have no place in a democratic society.