Voter turnout for midterm election highest in over 20 years

DOVER — Slightly more than 52 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the 2018 midterm, blowing past 2014’s participation rate of 37 percent. It was the first midterm to have a majority of voters participate since 1994.

While a detailed breakdown of turnout won’t be available for weeks, if not months, it’s clear turnout on the left far exceeded 2014, when just 36 percent of Delaware Democrats voted. That year was a good one for Republicans.

2018 was drastically different, with an energized electorate on both sides.

At the national level, Democrats claimed the House for the first time in eight years. Locally, Democratic candidates unseated the Senate and House minority whips and claimed every statewide office up for grabs, knocking off Treasurer Ken Simpler.

The Democratic Party now holds all nine statewide seats. It is believed to be the first time one party has achieved such a feat since Republicans did so in 1970.

Both Democratic and Republican politicians said Thursday outside factors had an unduly large impact on the outcome.

“I think their challenge has been that Trump nationalized every election. It was hard for Republican candidates to run on purely local issues because of the dominance of President Trump in motivating people to come to the polls this year,” Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat, said at a brunch event a few hours before the Return Day parade.

Mr. Simpler, who in 2014 became the first non-incumbent Republican to win a statewide race in 20 years, attributed his defeat in large part to turnout and the big gap in registration. Democrats outnumber Republicans about 329,400 to 193,600 in the First State.

“You know the math, right?” he said Thursday. “I mean, the turnout totals were so much higher than when I ran before. There were so many people who didn’t even know who I was because they were voting for the first time in a midterm. And so, our challenge of trying to reach those people was that much harder.”

Mr. Simpler actually received far more votes than in 2014 — about 164,000 versus 123,100 — but, by percentage, saw his total drop almost 8 points.

Lisa Blunt Rochester

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester was the leading vote-getter, collecting about 227,400 votes — the highest midterm total for a candidate in Delaware history.

Seventeen of the 41 House districts and three of the 10 Senate districts on ballots Tuesday saw at least 50 percent of residents vote. Of those, five House and two Senate districts recorded voter participation in excess of 60 percent, with the 12th, 14th, 20th and 38th Representative districts and the 6th Senatorial District each witnessing about 63 or 64 percent turnout.

Four of the five busiest districts encompass the beach area, which has a large retiree population. Elderly individuals tend to be reliable voters.

Sussex County stayed red — 22 of the 23 elected county or state offices there are still held by Republicans — but, said House Minority Leader Danny Short, a Seaford Republican, “the momentum of New Castle County kind of swept through.”

Democrats control 33 of 39 legislative districts in New Castle County. Counting county and Wilmington elected positions, Democrats hold 63 of 71 offices in the state’s northernmost and most populous county.

The high turnout and the results from Tuesday bode well for Democrats looking ahead to 2020. Because presidential years typically see more Democratic voters participate than in midterms, 2020 could be another good year for Democrats nationwide.

At the local level, the party can regain a supermajority in both chambers of the General Assembly by winning one Senate seat.

That three-fifths threshold, which is needed to pass tax increases, was broken in 2014.

The midterm also snapped a streak that saw the GOP gain a state Senate spot in each of the previous four elections. Clinging to an 11-10 edge going into Tuesday, Democrats not only avoided losing the Senate for the first time since 1973, they picked up a seat.

It was a good night for women: Voters selected Delaware’s first female auditor and second female attorney general, elected a woman treasurer, re-elected the state’s first female member of Congress and sent two more women to Legislative Hall.

Fifteen of the General Assembly’s 62 members are women.

More history was made in the General Assembly with Darius Brown and Tizzy Lockman becoming just the third and fourth African-Americans to join the state Senate.

As with all elections, this one was not without some hitches, although Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove characterized them as minor.

Some people complained of being ordered by poll workers to show a photo identification, although state law does not require such proof. Instead, a person who wishes to vote without presenting ID must sign an affidavit attesting he or she is indeed the person listed in the poll book.

Someone who votes fraudulently faces a prison sentence of between 30 days and two years.

Ms. Manlove said she was confused as to why there was seemingly a large number of poll workers demanding identification from voters.

“Nothing changed in the law,” she noted. “There’s always poll workers that don’t get it. They think they positively have to have voter ID.”

While turnout was the best it’s been for a midterm in 24 years, Ms. Manlove has a different perspective. Forty-eight percent of registered voters — about 333,000 Delawareans — did not cast ballots.

“I can’t understand that,” she said. “That’s just me. I can’t understand how you could not” want to vote.

 

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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