Denton County residents have turned out in record numbers at the polls this election, surpassing 2014’s totals on the first day of early voting. The upswing in midterm voters locally and nationally may be largely thanks to what many are calling “the Kavanaugh effect,” an increase in political activity created by the recent Supreme Court controversy.
The explosive and widely televised Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, in which Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her while the two were in high school, divided the nation. With warring hashtags like #Ibelievehim and #believeallwomen, public tensions grew as questions arose concerning the validity of decades-old allegations and the ethics associated with nominating a man accused of assault to the highest court in the U.S.
The Committee’s narrow confirmation of now-Justice Kavanaugh cemented divisions along political boundaries, and, as the midterms arrived, voters on both sides got to flex their political power in the wake of the debate.
“One side saw a credible woman whose account of sexual assault against a powerful man was not believed and not taken seriously,” wrote Susan Page in a USA Today article. “The other side saw an accomplished man whose reputation was being smeared by an accuser who couldn’t provide proof of her allegations or remember the details.”
TWU students, too, have felt the effects of the contentious political climate created by the Kavanaugh hearings, and they say it has encouraged them to be more politically active.
“It made me want to be more involved because I want someone in office that’s going to stand up for what I believe in,” said pre-nursing sophomore Kamryn Rogers.
“It’s encouraged me even more to vote so that we can get more people in office who can advocate for women and other minorities so that our voices are heard,” said senior psychology/sociology double-major and Social Change Peer Educator Desiree Phipps.
While the Kavanaugh effect might seem like it would favor Democrats, it’s proven unpredictable. Though a recent Suffolk poll found that six out of 10 voters said the Kavanaugh confirmation made them more likely to vote Democratic, Republicans angry that Kavanaugh faced interrogations about what some consider his distant past at the Judiciary Committee hearings are also energized to show up at the polls. Republican candidates are currently ahead in at least four key senate races.
Michelle Reeves, Director of the TWU Office of Civility and one of the organizers of last month’s #MeToo Dialogues session on campus, has seen this sentiment echoed among students on both sides of the political aisle.
“We have that strong element of students who feel it’s disconcerting the way that whole process played out,” Reeves said. “I’ve heard other conversations happen about due process and ‘how long is too long?’ I think those kinds of conversations are going to continue.”
Despite the uncertainty of this midterm season, the rise in political activity makes one thing certain – voters are making themselves heard in the ongoing debate.
“Once you graduate and move on, all these topics are still going to be out there,” Reeves said. “Are we going to be silent about them or say ‘I have a voice, and my voice is just as valid as somebody else’s.’”
Early voting continues through Nov. 2 and the general election is Nov. 6. Information about polling locations is available here.