As Election Day sprawled out into Election Week, Vassar students waited in suspense as several swing states continued to count votes. The slow march of counting was unlike anything in recent memory, brought about by the inundation of mail-in and absentee ballots amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The process further complicated an already contentious election, which pitted the incumbent President Donald Trump against former Vice President Joe Biden.
At 11:24 a.m. on Saturday morning, CNN called Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes for Biden, vaulting the former VP past the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. The Associated Press and other major networks followed suit, and social media users got a notification on their timelines that the historic Biden-Harris ticket had won. As the news spread, Vassar students could be heard shouting in celebration on the quad. Joe Biden, declared the victor 48 years to the day after his first election to the U.S. Senate, is the oldest president-elect, and will be the oldest sitting president in U.S. history. Kamala Harris will be the first female, Black, and South Asian vice president, and the first multiracial vice president since Charles Curtis, who was of partial Native American ancestry and served alongside Herbert Hoover.
Many students rejoiced in response to the results of this historical election. “We’re relieved that Trump’s presidency is coming to an end, but still concerned about Trump’s last three months of office and the continued support for Trump,” said a statement from the executive board of Vassar College Democrats.
They continued, “Watching the results was a rollercoaster of emotion as different states were called, and it was stressful waiting for the results, even though we knew that it would take time for every vote to be counted. The election also felt closer than it should have been, but it shows how much work we still have to do.”
So far, Donald Trump has yet to concede, citing unsubstantiated claims of election fraud widespread enough to tilt the results in his favor. He has taken legal action in the close states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, and Nevada, which scholars say would be insufficient to swing the election even if he won in court. Legal experts consider it unlikely for these lawsuits to bear fruit, meaning Trump will eventually be compelled to concede.
Gerassimos Copoulous ‘22 of the Vassar College Republicans emphasized that while fraud is unacceptable, there does not seem to be substantial evidence of wrongdoing. “Respecting the results of free elections and the peaceful and willing transition of power between presidents is fundamental to the spirit of our republic,” he said.
He continued, “There have been accusations of fraud; if these accusations are at all true in any cases those responsible should be prosecuted. That said, to be clear, based on the factual evidence available right now there is no serious case for disputing the overall results of the election as-called.” Copoulos characterized healing the ever-growing political divide in the United States as absolutely crucial to this country’s political future.
Though it seems that the majority of students on Vassar’s mostly left-leaning campus breathed a sigh of relief Saturday morning, it should be noted that Biden’s nomination and candidacy were non-ideal scenarios for many Vassar students, most of whom supported Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders in the primaries. This was showcased in the “Settle for Biden” movement across social media, which stressed the importance of young progressives both supporting the Biden-Harris campaign and holding them to high standards after the election. “Biden is a very temporary prevention from immediate fascism, and he will be able to enable some protections for LGBTQ and BIPOC communities,” said a joint statement from the Vassar Leftist Union.
They continued, “But he won’t bring real effective and long-lasting change to our country. He won’t effectively uplift the millions of Americans without healthcare, without good paying jobs, and he will not reform/abolish the military industrial complex and incarceral prison system. He definitely will not work for strong and wide-sweeping legislation that will fight the climate crisis. At the end of the day he belongs to Wall Street capitalist interests.”
President of Vassar Votes Sonia Santos ’21 declined to give her opinion on the election results, but said she was touched by the large movement to encourage voting that took place on campus. She remarked that she was: “Very moved by the strong civic engagement that has cultivated around this 2020 election cycle” and hopes “to see this same level of enthusiasm for every election cycle. Because elections aren’t limited to every four years.”
The 2020 election is expected to have the highest voter turnout in over a century, with youth turnout in particular much higher than in 2016. “The voter turnout among young people has been amazing,” said VC Democracy Matters Co-President Cassie Cauwels ’22. “Even at Vassar, 220 students voted in Poughkeepsie compared to 150 last year. Despite ongoing suppression efforts, democracy has prevailed with more ballots cast and more votes counted.”
She continued, “Even though the pandemic presented voting challenges, it also opened new doors to mail in voting and early voting in multiple states which we hope to see continued in the future.”
Cauwels noted, however, that the fight for voting rights and enfranchisement continues. “We would love to see voting rights expand, especially the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the For The People Act carrying into the new congress and presidential administration,” Cauwels explained. Among the chief objectives of Democracy Matters is getting big money out of politics, an aim it saw play out this election cycle. “It also was a success seeing grass-root candidates prevail over candidates funded by large corporate donors. This election really does belong to the people and we have every right to celebrate and should be ready to carry this momentum for future elections.”