by Lewie Katzen Curtwright
The untold story of the 2020 election is the glowing rainbow illuminating the backdrop of what was otherwise largely seen as an exhaustively divisive election cycle replete with unprecedented negativity. It’s not unfathomable that many voters were driven to apathy for mere self-preservation’s sake as they navigated incessant attack ads, debate daggers, and the pitfalls of increasingly hyper-partisan cable news and social media channels. The burnout was real, and chances are many of us were not alone in that sentiment.
The exciting news is that we as a nation all just witnessed a government that is more representative of its electorate than ever before emerged from the ashes of the dumpster fire. There are several races yet to be called, and a handful of runoffs set to take place, with of course the most visible taking place right here in the Peach State made even more remarkable by the fact that two of the four candidates running include a woman from the GOP and a Democratic African-American man vying for two consequential seats in the world’s most prestigious deliberative body. Let’s do a quick dive on the raw numbers for the vast majority of races that have been called and the implications for what is set to become the most eclectic composition of elected officials in our nearly 225-year history.
From local to federal and in between, female, PoC, and LGBT candidates ran for and were victorious across the country from Hawaii to New York and beyond. From the top down, we are led by the glass-obliterating arrival of Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, whose trailblazing story is a victory for intersectionality rivaled only by spaghetti junction at rush hour. The California Democrat is the first ciswoman, Asian-American, African-American, and daughter of immigrants to catapult to the White House with over 80 million votes, by far the most ever recorded. Come January, she will become the highest-ranking female elected official in American history and the one with the most viable pathway to the presidency. Her incredible ascent led to her crowning as the 2020 Person of the Year by Time Magazine alongside her running mate, President-Elect Joseph R. Biden.
Executive tickets have been trending more toward women participants for over a decade, especially when you consider that three of the last four presidential elections had a female candidate running alongside increased voter turnout each time. Midterm elections have also had a similar effect recently. In 2018, over 125 women served in the 116th Congress. This was in part to what political pundits deemed “The Blue Wave,” which saw Democrats pick up a 40-seat gain in The House of Representatives, the largest since Watergate. However, exit polls and gender research show it was, in fact, a pink wave that saw record numbers of women voting, running, and yes, winning office than ever before, leading to 2018 being dubbed “The Year of the Woman” similar to the seismic gains seen 26 years prior in 1992 known by that same nickname in political circles.
Downballot, exceptional success at the federal level by women in 2018 continued this election as well. There will be a record-breaking 136 women serving in the 117th Congress, led by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi despite her caucus facing some brutal losses and trimming her majority down to just a few seats over the 218 threshold needed to retain the gavel. In fact, the GOP is sending the highest number of women to both houses of the federal legislature, showing that both sides of the aisle are trending in a more representative direction that is more reflective of the voters that employ them at the ballot box.
LGBT candidates made rainbow waves from coast to coast as well and included some powerful trailblazers by queer candidates of color. In total, nearly 1,000 open and out candidates ran, with nearly 400 winning their races nationwide. Atlanta’s very own Kim Jackson will become the first Black Lesbian and Episcopal Priest to serve in the Georgia state Senate. In the Hawaii state legislature, Asian-American queer candidate Adrian Tam defeated his opponent, endorsed by White Nationalist-aligned group The Proud Boys, showing that love indeed does triumph over hate in the Aloha State. Thousands of miles East, champagne bottles were heard popping for the double milestone of the first two openly gay black members elected to the United States Congress from New York. Native-American women of color also made history with electoral victories at the state level in New Mexico and Kansas, as did Latinx officials and candidates with disabilities in multiple cities and states. Transgender candidates increased their profile as well, with nine elected officials nationwide after the 2020 victors are certified and seated. This comes, of course, after the historic win of Danica Roem, who took on her transphobic incumbent and defeated him resoundingly to become the first transgender state-wide office holder in the 2017 wave election that delivered the Virginia House of Delegates to the Democrats. Miss Roem was re-elected in 2019, leading the way for the nine-fold increase that awaits us as sworn oaths prepare to be recited from sea to shining sea in 2021.
Offices from local to the Oval are seeing a welcome color shift, which shows no signs of slowing down as we continue to show our diversity is our strength. Whether you look at the last four years or the 2020 presidential election outcome with doom and gloom, it’s is true what Mariah said: “After every storm, if you look hard enough… a rainbow appears.”