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As Cornellians from across the country will be voting in midterm elections this week, several students and alumni reflect upon the larger issues at play in their home states and nationally.

November 7, 2022

Cornellians Vote in Battleground Elections — Part 3: Issues and Voter Decision-Making

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With this year’s election day fast approaching, students will be voting in elections across the nation from New York to Hawaiʻi. This is the fourth and final article in a series highlighting the students and alumni who are voting in battleground elections this year. Part one, covering New York, can be found here. Part two, covering the Great Lakes region, can be found here

For whom someone votes is only part of the equation when understanding political landscapes. In addition to party affiliation, there are many other reasons why a voter may choose a character, such as major issues that influence their voting decisions, support for or opposition to a candidate’s policies or even simple gut reactions like fear. 

The current status of democracy also factors into some decision making. Following former president Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election and the subsequent attempted January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, many Republicans have followed in his footsteps and denied the results of the 2020 election. Other students focused on the economy, women’s rights and immigration as determinants for their vote.

The Future of Democracy and Election Denial

Given the refusal by many Republicans to accept the results of the 2020 election, many of the students interviewed expressed fears either about the future of democracy in the United States or that one of their states’ candidates would refuse to accept a loss, disseminating lies that their defeat was fraudulent.

“The future of democracy is at stake in the United States because of the Republican Party and the ideologies they enforce and promote,” said Anna Casey ’25, who is from Arizona. “This is especially true for women’s rights, as the decision to take them away in many states has already been made. If you are eligible to vote, it is your duty as an American citizen to ensure that those who have the power to take away those rights do not get re-elected under any circumstances.”

Vivian Lewandowski ’25 also raised concerns over the future of democracy, citing Wisconsin, from where she hails, as a battleground state in which she feels democracy is especially threatened.

Sammie Engel ’25, from Ohio, expressed similar worries.

“I think it [democracy] really is at stake, especially in local elections,” she said. “People can overlook state and municipal elections, but electoral maps, abortion rights, gun control, climate change, education, economy — everything is controlled to an extent at the state level and so it’s critical to vote.”

Caroline Hinrichs ’22, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin, noted Wisconsin’s strict absentee voting laws.

“I’ve heard people at work say, ‘Oh, if you’re doing an absentee ballot or if you’re voting early, you have to make sure that everything is perfect. If there’s one thing that’s out of place, if one check mark is in the wrong box, they will throw out your ballot,’” Hinrichs said. “You have to be fastidious when it comes to getting your ballot right in Wisconsin, so I am trying to go vote in person on the day of for maximum chances that my vote will be counted.”

Other students, like Max Hafner ’23, said they did not share such intense concerns. .

“I don’t believe that the future of democracy is at stake,” Hafner, who hails from Pennsylvania, said. “I don’t believe that most important decisions are relevant to popular desire, and while elections may have minimal influence, war and corporate greed will continue to be pushed regardless of the letter next to the politicians’ names.”

Sam Schneider ’22 said that he was considering broader questions of democracy, mentioning Mehmet Oz’s (R-Penn.) running in the upcoming Senate election as an example of under-qualified candidates being allowed onto the ballot.

“Do we want a democracy where we actually hold potentially unbalanced candidates responsible and hold them to a higher level, or do we just let any rando like Mehmet Oz onto the ballot whenever they want?” Schneider said. “The country has quietly accepted the concept of getting bad ballots in terms of the quality of candidates on them, and just being okay with that and saying, ‘Well, I have to vote.’ That’s the bigger concern.”

Avery Bower ’23, who hails from Upstate New York, expressed distaste for politicians’ talk of threats to democracy in their campaigns.

“Portraying our political opponents as a threat to democracy removes options for voters and holds them hostage to the one party which claims to not be a threat to democracy,” Bower said. “Simply say you don’t think your opponent’s policies are the best for the country.”

Regarding election results, most students said that they believed most candidates would not challenge losses.

“It is childish to believe that a system rooted in the United States for years would magically change for one candidate in one election, like the time in Arizona where Trump tried to tell the world that the people in the polling station rigged the votes,” Casey said.

Others, such as Hafner, were less confident.

“I am sure that some will [challenge the results], particularly Mastriano, because he is very right and to pander to his base it seems in line,” Hafner said.

Hot-Button Issues and Voter Decision-Making

Many students listed women’s rights, the economy and climate change as main issues of concern for the upcoming elections. 

“I view women’s rights as the most important issue in this year’s election. As a woman I find it only acceptable that women have the same rights as men,” said Michigander Savannah Kokaly ’25. “No other person should dictate what happens to my body.”

Engel also said that she prioritized abortion rights, while Hinrichs highlighted gun control as her top issue.

“Growing up on the East Coast, during the era of Sandy Hook and Parkland, that’s definitely something that’s always been on my mind as I have come of age as a voter,” Hinrichs, who grew up in Massachusetts, said.

Regional issues were also a major theme in a few of the responses, best emphasized by Arizonan Natalina Putrino ’25 and her focus on immigration.

“I have a lot of friends who are have parents who are undocumented, or who themselves are undocumented,” Putrino said. “Seeing governors and senators who are more open to DREAMers and sanctuaries would also be important to me, because I’ve had friends who have to struggle with the fear of that all the time.”

Some students cited candidates’ political parties as reasons for voting for or against them. Hafner said she would disagree with policies proposed by a GOP senate; Kokaly pointed to Gretchen Whitmer’s platform, the Democratic candidate for Michigan’s gubernatorial race, as one that aligned with her views. 

“My views on women’s rights, climate change, schooling and many other factors that correlate to improving the great state of Michigan correspond with Gretchen Whitmer’s views,” Kokaly said.

However, not all decisions relied strictly on issues and political analyses.

“Honestly, [Republican candidate for Wisconsin governor] Tim Michels just scares me,” Hinrichs said.