Millions of Americans took to the polls on Tuesday for the 2022 midterm elections, a series of bitter contests that will determine whether Democrats or Republicans control Congress for the next two years, as well as key state and local offices. The outcome could also help determine whether 2020 election deniers gain more political power, and potentially set the stage for still more discord among an increasingly fractious electorate.
Voters across the US described a range of urgent concerns, whether over the ongoing assault on reproductive rights or anxieties about the economy and crime. Many also described a heightened level of worry about possible challenges to accurate election results and the disenfranchisement of voters, including protracted litigation that could sow dangerous distrust in the US’s electoral system.
In Columbus, Ohio, Ashley Sica said her vote for Democrat Tim Ryan in the US Senate race was decided after the US supreme court overturned Roe v Wade.
“I voted based off of my values, and maybe not necessarily what I would do, but just thinking globally of choices that other people should be able to have. I don’t think that government officials should be in charge of what people do with their own bodies,” said Sica, whose polling place was Ohio’s largest Greek Orthodox church.
Sica, a nurse, said the Roe decision prompted many women to vote in the midterms who otherwise probably would not. She also described fear over Republicans’ opposition to tighter gun control laws despite a series of deadly school shootings.
“My children’s daycare is just a mile from here. There was an issue with someone shooting a gun around their daycare. So that’s another thing that kind of brought me out to vote for stricter laws in regards to guns,” Sica said. “Having kids that are of school age now really brings that kind of thing into focus, thinking about their safety and the safety of others.”
Jeffrey Weisman, another Columbus resident, voted for the bestselling author and Republican candidate for the US Senate JD Vance, albeit without much enthusiasm. “I vote Republican pretty much all the way and that is my main reason why,” Weisman said.
Vance has a slight polling lead over Ryan in a state that has increasingly given sizable majorities to Republicans. The neck-and-neck Ohio contest somewhat reflects the strength of Ryan’s campaign for a seat that could determine whether his party holds control of the Senate.
The close race also reflects voters’ doubts about Vance’s sincerity; he dramatically moved away from calling Trump a “fraud” and “moral disaster” to becoming a dogged supporter to land Trump’s endorsement in the GOP primaries.
Weisman, the owner of a retail jewelry store, said it didn’t matter that Vance was backed by Trump. “I like the Republicans’ stuff when it comes more to the economy. I’m a business owner and I feel that things are not going in the right direction with the Democrats in charge,” he said. “I’m hoping that maybe the Republicans in charge will get things going a little better economy-wise.”
Weisman, who twice voted for Trump in presidential races, said he’d rather the former commander-in-chief stay out of the 2024 contest. “It’s a tough one. I like his politics. His mouth scares a lot of people. So, I personally do not think he can win because of the mouth, the ‘controversialness’ of him, and so I think that would be a tough road for him,” he said.
Voters in Pennsylvania – a state which is poised to have one of the closest US Senate elections – were choosing between John Fetterman, the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor, and Mehmet Oz, a Republican celebrity doctor.
While Fetterman held a commanding lead in the polls for months, Oz has since closed the gap. Fetterman suffered a stroke in May, and still has difficulties with speaking and comprehending other speakers, as revealed in a debate with Oz two weeks ago. Fetterman and his team have insisted he is able to work and serve as senator; Oz’s campaign has mocked his health.
“I liked Fetterman, except for the man had a stroke,” said Steve Schwartz, who just voted for Oz in Beaver county, approximately 30 miles north-west of Pittsburgh. “I don’t even know if he can drive to work yet. You don’t wanna hire him and then he’s going to be on disability for a little bit.” Schwartz, who also voted for the Republican candidates for governor and the US House, said he would have “seriously considered” Fetterman if not for his stroke.
Beaver county, named after the Beaver River, which is either named after the Lenape chief King Beaver or the flat-tailed animal, voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. The former president’s margin of victory was smaller here than in other Pennsylvania counties.
Mike Moore, a 41-year-old loan closer, said he had cast his vote for Fetterman.
“I like the way he is. I’ve met him a couple of times, he seems like a real genuine guy. I kind of don’t like Dr Oz, because he doesn’t live in Pennsylvania – and that’s kind of like: ‘How can he represent me?’” Moore said, referring to Oz’s decades-long residency in a mansion in New Jersey; Oz claims he moved to Pennsylvania in late 2020.
For Moore, the most important issue was “bipartisanship”, which appears unlikely given the tone of this election cycle. “This country is so polarized now, it’s a shame,” Moore said. “You know, we got to work together. We got to be Americans.”
In Lansing, Michigan, the congresswoman Elissa Slotkin– – who is running in the most expensive House race in the country – said she was bracing herself for attempts to undermine the state’s election results.
“This is what happens when a leadership climate is set in our country, trying to undercut democracy when one side loses,” she said on a small patch of tidily cropped grass outside the Eastern high school athletic club after casting her vote.
“It’s unclear what my opponent will do if he loses. The good news is, we’ve seen this movie before, in 2020. We were prepared,” Slotkin said.
A judge on Monday dismissed an effort by Republicans to throw out votes in Detroit, determining that their claim lacked a “shred of evidence”.
Slotkin remarked that inflation was undeniably on everybody’s mind in Michigan, but added that the ballot initiative to protect abortion in Michigan is a “countervailing wind” following the US supreme court’s decision in July to overturn Roe v Wade. “I was at the Michigan State rally last night with campus organizers, and Roe v Wade is really motivating students,” Slotkin said.
In nearby Detroit, at a polling site at the Greater Grace temple in the north-west of the city, 35-year-old Xhosoli Nmumhad said she decided to cast a ballot to support a constitutional amendment that would dramatically expand voting rights in Michigan. Nmumhad, 35, has only voted twice before – once in 2008 and then again in 2012, for Barack Obama – but said of her decision: “I believe everyone should be able to vote.”
Ruth Draines, 72, another voter here, said she always participated in elections. This cycle, she was especially motivated by a ballot proposal that would amend Michigan’s constitution to protect access to abortion. “I don’t like the fact that they want to take away a woman’s right, because some women get raped and they don’t want to be reminded of that,” Draines said.
In Kentucky, Ona Marshall, who co-owns one the two remaining abortion clinics in this state, said her polling station in Louisville was overflowing with voters around 11 am. “Not even in a presidential year have we seen that number of people, and this is mid-morning,” Marshall said.
On the ballot in Kentucky is Amendment 2, a proposal that would restrict abortion in Kentucky. It’s unclear whether the surge of voters will cast their ballots in favor or opposition of the amendment, but Marshall remains optimistic.
“Whatever happens, for our country and democracy, it’s extremely important that we have a higher turnout at the polls for every election, so to see it in a midterm election is definitely hopeful,” Marshall said.
This morning in Georgia, Avondale Estates voter Coleman Williams said he felt the weight of the midterm elections. Georgia voters must chose between Democrat Stacey Abrams and incumbent Republican governor, Brian Kemp, in the gubernatorial race – and pick between Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican candidate Herschel Walker for US Senate.
“I’ve watched the debates, and there’s just so much at stake for everyone,” Williams said. “I’m feeling nervous but hopeful because Georgia knows that we have to get out there, and we clearly have.”
There were also the voters who found themselves so worried about the future of this country that they cast their votes early in case something happened. Beverly Harvey, a retiree and bingo organizer in the Villages, a sprawling age-55-and-up community in central Florida, was among them.
“Most of my friends and I voted early. We wanted to make sure we got our vote in to try to save this country if we should not live long enough to vote on election day,” said Harvey, 75. “When you live in the Villages, you have to plan ahead.”
Harvey’s top concerns were the border, crime and the economy. “We need to be doing for people here. I understand their need to escape their living conditions, but we have a lot of people in this country that are living in poor conditions as well,” Harvey said. As for crime, “I have four grandchildren, two in college, and I pray every day for their safety wherever they might be.”
Meanwhile, Harvey and her friends are reeling from the soaring cost of living. They saved and saved for years, not to live “expensively” in their retirement, but just comfortably, Harvey said – which seems like an increasingly ephemeral goal.
“We’ve lost so much of our savings toward our retirement that we’re really having to cut back on everything,” said Harvey. She said she “pretty much” voted “straight Republican”. As for the few Democrats Harvey voted for, she explained: “They agreed on the same things I do: the economy, the border, safety.”