Sharp political divide, rising hostility propel heavy voter turnout at polls
Americans stormed the polls Tuesday to send an angry message, driven by a sharp political divide that fuels hostility toward the other side.
The heavy turnout from New Jersey to Nevada, coming on the heels of record-setting early voting in many states, proved just how consequential Americans viewed the midterm contest.
“I’m here to make a statement,” said Democrat voter James Wood, who voted a party-line ticket hoping the message would get to President Trump.
“It’s important for Democrats to push back against the hate,” said Mr. Wood, a county government employee who cast his ballot on Maryland’s conservative Eastern Shore.
Others pushed back from the other side.
“I don’t trust the Democrats, especially after that stunt they pulled with [Supreme Court Justice Brett M.] Kavanaugh. All these threats they make, I honestly think some of them are evil people,” said retiree Varney Prejean, who cast his ballot for Republican Rep. Steve Scalise in Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District.
Studies show the feeling of disdain for the other side is definitely rising, said Michael G. Miller, political science professor at Barnard College.
He said that’s likely propelling voters to the polls.
“It’s not clear that we have drift farther apart from each other as far as policies go but we do have a higher level of animosity against the opposing party,” he said. “That is part of the reason they perceive their vote to be highly salient.”
Across the country, a steady stream of voters arrived at polls throughout the day, with some lining up outside schools and other polling places before they opened.
A crowd formed early at a New York City polling station, forcing firefighters to break a lock on a door and let people in early, according to reports.
Still, aside from some issues with weather that included humidity reportedly putting some voting machines in North Carolina on the fritz, the elections appeared to unfold peacefully. Even in battleground states such as Florida, Missouri, Texas and Arizona, officials said heavy turnout had not led to any issues or incidents.
Election volunteers across the country reported brisker business than they remembered from the 2014 midterm elections. In some precincts, polling officials complained that the steady pace made it difficult to take bathroom breaks.
It’s a trend that began with early voting. University of Florida elections expert Michael McDonald, who reported at least 20 states had topped their 2014 totals before early voting ended Friday, spent much of the day on Twitter “bumping” or “revising” or “tweaking” his voting estimates because of turnout in Florida, Colorado and Nevada.
In Missouri, a state on the front line of the battle for control of the Senate, election officials expected turnout to top 55 percent. That is nearly the level of the 2016 presidential election and significantly higher than the 38 percent turnout in the 2014 midterms.
Poll workers in parts of Ohio reported busy hours in Columbus, and while turnout in Cleveland and Cincinnati exceeded the 2014 figures, that year was a somewhat lackluster midterm in terms of voter participation, experts said.