By editorial board • 

Electoral gridlock at the top masks shifting tides below

In many ways, this year’s general election greatly resembled those of past presidential years.

America remains deeply divided. It is fractured along the fault lines of geography, ethnicity, gender, income, education, employment and religion, which interact to shape candidate, party and issue allegiances.

That result manifests itself in both predicable and surprising ways, the latter once again leading pollsters to overestimate Democratic Party prospects.

The balloting of 2016 boosted Donald Trump into the presidency on the strength of paper-thin margins in the upper Midwest, where Democrats had historically dominated. If the 2020 balloting lifts Joe Biden into the presidency in his stead, yet to be determined at this writing, it will be largely on the basis of equally thin margins in the same part of the country.

Meanwhile, the widely predicted shift in control of the U.S. Senate from Republican to Democratic seemed increasingly unlikely as the count continued around the country. The parties traded a seat or two, but for the most part, the status quo appeared to prevail. The needle didn’t seem destined to waver, despite the expenditure of oceans of cash on both sides.

But digging deeper, this year’s election differed in some important ways that have powerful ramifications for the future:

n Turnout was astronomical, thanks to a seismic shift toward the kind of mail balloting Oregon pioneered more than 20 years ago. The pandemic lent urgency and impetus, but the shift was already gaining momentum that shows no signs of abating.

People of every political stripe should applaud the rising level of enthusiasm and engagement in the political process. Voter suppression is an ugly and utterly undemocratic tactic that has no place in our society. We should encourage the casting and counting of votes from every eligible American.

n For all the similarity on top, there were some startling differences down-ballot that suggest currents of social change in both directions.

The stars and bars of the confederacy lost its place on the state flag in Mississippi. A Muslim woman was elected to Congress in Oklahoma. Recreational marijuana measures passed in Arizona, Montana, South Dakota and New Jersey.

Meanwhile, California backed Biden 2-to-1, not surprisingly, but rejected several Democrat-led measures, including rent control, affirmative action in college admissions and a tax increase against non-residential real estate.

Closer to home, Oregon became the first state to legalize therapeutic use of hallucinogenic psilocybin. It also was the first to decriminalize user amount possession of narcotics, including heroin, meth and cocaine.

n Thankfully, fears of foreign interference, voter intimidation, social media manipulation, voting system hacking, major system breakdowns, laggard mail delivery and overwhelmed polling places largely failed to materialize. Though counting challenges arose both by chance and deliberate political act in some key states, the voting itself proceeded virtually seamlessly.

While we await the ballot counting and challenges to fully play out, we can all take heart in one truth: Despite the ravages of a deadly pandemic and perhaps the most poisonous political climate in our history, the republic for which we stand completed yet another free and fair election.


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