The 2018 midterm elections arrived this November with intense enthusiasm even before the polls opened. 

According to Michael McDonald of the U.S. Elections Project, 38.4 million Americans cast early voter ballots, a significant increase from the 27.4 million in the 2014 midterm election.

In Virginia, Democrat Jennifer Wexton defeated incumbent 10th District Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Republican, in a key race. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, won his re-election bid against Republican Corey Stewart. Democrat A. Donald McEachin was reelected as the representative for Virginia’s fourth House district, which includes UR’s campus.

Nationally, the election had major victories on both sides. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat, won his election to become the nation’s first openly gay governor. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, and Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, became the first Muslim women voted into Congress when they won their House of Representatives races. 

Incumbent Republican Ted Cruz, narrowly fended off upstart Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke in a highly publicized Senate race in Texas. Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn also defeated her opponent, Democrat Phil Bredesen, in Tennessee. These victories, in addition to two Republican candidates defeating Democratic incumbents in Indiana and North Dakota, ensured Republicans would retain their control of the Senate.

However, for the first time in eight years, the Democrats won control of the House of Representatives. This victory, coupled with the Republicans maintaining the Senate, guarantees a divided Congress until the 2020 elections.

On the eve of the highly-anticipated midterm elections, President Donald Trump held a rally in Cleveland, Ohio, to support Republican candidate Mike DeWine in his gubernatorial race against Democratic candidate Richard Cordray. 

At the event on Monday morning, Trump made note of the heightened buzz surrounding the elections this year. 

"The midterm elections used to be, like, boring, didn't they?” Trump said. “Who ever even heard of a midterm? Now they're, like, the hottest thing."

Leading up to the elections, Republicans controlled both chambers of U.S. Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate. According to an article published in The Week, before Trump’s presidency, the last time one party controlled all three branches of the federal government was the 109th U.S. Congress from 2005 to 2007. Under President George W. Bush, Republicans held the White House, both chambers of Congress and a majority on the Supreme Court.

Many political experts suggested Democrats had a strong chance of regaining the House, with Nate Silver’s acclaimed statistical analysis software FiveThirtyEight giving the Democratic Party a seven in eight chance of successfully winning the majority. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Republican Party had a four in five chance of maintaining control of the Senate, so a split Congress was the most likely scenario.

Skeptics remained, as questions regarding the accuracy of polling data have arisen in the wake of the 2016 election. FiveThirtyEight had Hillary Clinton with a seven in 10 chance to win the presidency on the day before the 2016 presidential election. Pew Research found other expert predictions even had Clinton’s chance of victory above 90 percent. 

The uncertainty of predictions and numerous closely contested races led both Democrats and Republicans to energize their bases to vote in the weeks leading up to the election.

Several days before the election while speaking at a rally in Chicago, President Barack Obama suggested this election could be more important than the one in which he was elected president, according to the Chicago Sun Tribune.

“In two days, you get to vote in what might be the most important election of my lifetime, maybe more important than 2008," Obama said.

Other politicians echoed the sentiment, with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., saying the midterm election had the potential to be the most important in modern history, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., comparing the election to a “knife fight in an alley.

Messages encouraging young voters to head to the polls were widespread across campus, social media platforms and news outlets. Celebrities such as Taylor Swift and Rihanna used their vast social media influence to encourage fans to exercise their right to vote. According to ABC News, Oprah Winfrey even went door-to-door in Georgia supporting the Democratic candidate for governor, Stacey Abrams.

A recent Harvard Institute of Politics study found expected turnout among 18-to-29-year-olds to be far higher than in recent years. Forty percent of young voters surveyed said they intended to vote. Since 1986, voter turnout in midterm elections among 18-to-29-year-olds has topped 20 percent only twice, with 21 percent voting in both 1986 and 1994. 

Richmond students part of the anticipated above-average young voter turnout were able to vote at a new on-campus polling location at the Jepson Alumni Center.

First-year student Stefan Jenss was able to walk to the polling station after class. He appreciated the convenience of not having to coordinate transportation to vote off campus, he said.

“The people were friendly and very excited that we were there to vote,” Jenss said. “It was overall an easy process, and there were a lot of people around campus to help you if you had any questions about where, when or how to vote.”

Students registered to vote in their home states were able to submit absentee ballots for their respective states. 

Senior Joe Palminteri opted to vote in Illinois rather than Virginia because of the potential implications of his vote, he said.

“I wanted to vote in Illinois because we have a big election for governor this year, and my district has one of the closest House elections every time,” Palminteri said. “I haven’t really ever been politically motivated, but given today’s climate, especially after the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, I felt like it was my duty to be the change I want to see in politics.”

Because states such as Florida and Texas are viewed as crucial battleground states, according to NPR, some of the mail-in votes were viewed as quite important.

Emily Routman, a junior from Dallas, Texas, submitted her ballot from overseas while studying abroad in Paris this semester. 

“In this election especially, the future of our country, our planet and the rights of minorities are really at stake,” she said in a phone interview. “Even though I’m abroad in France right now, getting an absentee ballot and being able to vote for candidates like Beto [O'Rourke] gave me a sense of hope as a Texas voter.”

On Tuesday night, the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement hosted an election watch party in the International Center Commons. The event was advertised as nonpartisan and welcoming to students of all political affiliations.

A group of students huddled around live coverage screened on a projector, and many students had laptops opened to live coverage from news outlets. A quick hush fell over the room upon each major key state breaking-news alert. 

Almost halfway through the event, the volume of the coverage was turned down for a brief intermission. Political science professor Monti Datta led students in an American history-based trivia game, providing pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence for correct answers. 

Several productive debates broke out throughout the night, as another quick hush would fall across the room for each round of bipartisan rumbling. A straw poll showed a healthy split between Republicans and Democrats in attendance.

Contact news writer CJ Slavin at cj.slavin@richmond.edu.