Hawthorne voting

A voter fills out their ballot at the Frederiksen Community Center voting site.

The 2020 election had one of the highest voter turnouts since the 1960s. In Iowa, 72.7 percent of the population voted in the election — which broke the 40-year record in 2012. 

The 2020 election is different from previous elections. Many have viewed this one as the “make or break” with two polarizing candidates. 

Prior to when the race was called, the Iowa State Daily reached out to students to reflect on the 2020 election. 

Here are their responses. 


Yahriel Salinas-Reyes, junior in aerospace engineering, he/him/his

As the election is over and we’re waiting for the results to come in, what did you think about this as a whole? From the Democratic nominees, debates up until now? 

At this point, it wasn't as much about liking the candidates or agreeing with the values they displayed. With my intersectional identity as a Latino first-generation college student, my communities and I have experienced first-hand how systems, created here, work to oppress and alienate some while serving to benefit others. With this, the importance is placed on how our decision and outcome will change our way of life, as well as those around us. In my case, I prioritize whether my communities and I will be safer and or treated differently socially and systematically. After watching the debates the question then became, “Who won't make our lives harder and take steps back in progress?”

What was the driving force behind your vote or why you chose not to vote? 

As a son of a Latina lesbian refugee and a Latino immigrant, most of my family and community don’t get a voice in their way of life. But I do because I have been gifted that right. So my vote isn't just for me. It's for the benefit of my people. Realizing that the world here wasn’t made for people like me to succeed, many communities have to resort to a survivalist approach to life, where breaking barriers becomes a daily challenge and instills a sentiment of unwelcome. Through my vote, I hoped to elect someone who would bring safety, empowerment and positive change to my communities and more. 

Do you think your community was represented during the election? 

Since many immigrant and marginalized communities don't have the right to vote and face many barriers, I don’t feel my communities are fully represented. Along with disenfranchised communities, apparently disregarding members of our society is publicly accepted — a legal violence, to say. While my generation of students, leaders and humans showed much more push for voter turnout and change, I feel that many of us have made our voices heard unlike ever before. 

What needs to change? What needs to stay the same?

Through my experience in violence prevention, social work and extensive community work, I’ve learned that this nation and systems built here serve to only benefit specific communities. Our system of justice, based in revenge and violence along with white supremacy, embed themselves in every aspect of life here, and I believe they are the fundamental problems in this nation. 

This election was named by the population as “the most important election.” Do you believe that, and if so, why? 

I do believe that this is the most important election. This past year, the pandemic, social justice movements and other events teased the world with a taste of the U.S.'s true nature. The outcome after the election will determine what the people of this nation value and will create our new identity. Will we choose to follow the path laid before us? Or will we learn from our struggles and mistakes and create more progress?


Rena Haffarnan, a junior in physics and history, she/her/hers

As the election is over and we’re waiting for the results to come in, what did you think about this as a whole? From the Democratic nominees, debates up until now? 

I was disappointed when I realized that both vice-presidential candidates had a history of transphobia, otherwise there is a strange sense of the whole situation being unreal as I await results. Regardless of the outcome, I can see some significant changes to the current U.S. system after all is said and done.

What was the driving force behind your vote or why you chose not to vote? 

Ultimately, my decision came down to the fact that one of the candidates regularly pushes a narrative that is both hateful and enabling to hate groups.

Do you think your community was represented during the election? 

No, I feel like because of the vast difference in the two parties, I feel like several marginalized communities were forgotten in the race.

What needs to change? What should stay the same?

Personally, I would like to see the abolition of the Electoral College. It is outdated and seems counter-intuitive in a democratic system.

This election was named by the population as “the most important election.” Do you believe that, and if so, why? 

I agree to an extent. I think that this election is taking place in one of the most polarized Americas we have seen recently. However, I also feel like, no matter the outcome, the polarization of America and many of the issues facing our country won't be addressed.


Claire Daly, a sophomore in criminal justice and political science, she/her/hers

As the election is over and we’re waiting for the results to come in, what did you think about this as a whole? From the Democratic nominees, debates up until now? 

I honestly believe this was one of the most stressful and polarizing elections that I have ever witnessed as a whole. I truly believed that Bernie Sanders was going to be the primary Democratic nominee; however, I was ready to take anyone if that meant defeating Donald Trump.

What was the driving force behind your vote or why you chose not to vote? 

I chose to vote as early as possible because many of my rights as a human being are on the line. I voted as early as I could because it seemed especially personal to me to vote like my life depended on it.

Do you think your community was represented during the election? 

I believe that the LGBTQIA+ community was still under-represented because both candidates were heterosexual cisgendered white men.

What needs to change? What should stay the same?

I believe that we need to harden laws against voter intimidation. I think that early voting should remain the same, even after the global pandemic.

This election was named by the population as “the most important election.” Do you believe that, and if so, why?

I believe that this election is so important because of how divided and corrupt the political climate has become. I think that it isn't an election for the Democrats or the Republicans but for basic human rights.

Des Moines reactions to Biden winning election

The Associated Press declared former Vice President Joe Biden as the president-elect for the 2020 election Saturday. Many Iowans took to the streets to celebrate this win. 


Somerle Rhiner, a junior in sociology and women’s and gender studies, she/her/hers or they/them/theirs

As the election is over and we’re waiting for the results to come in, what did you think about this as a whole? From the Democratic nominees, debates up until now? 

So far, the easiest way for me to describe this is a big headache. I think that it's an interesting election considering how childish both candidates have been. This was very clear in the first debate and even some of the social media updates that they both post. For the Democratic nominees part, I think it was interesting listening to all of the folks talk about the issues they would like to present. I really enjoyed all of the candidates, and the representation made me feel very hopeful for this election.

What was the driving force behind your vote or why you chose not to vote? 

The reason that I voted is that when I vote, I'm thinking about folks from marginalized communities. I’m from marginalized communities as well, but I vote for folks who aren’t able to vote or whose lives are up to debate about.

Do you think your community was represented during the election? 

Representation as candidates — [Kamala] Harris, [Cory] Booker, [Elizabeth] Warren, [Tulsi] Gabbard, [Pete] Buttigieg, [Andrew] Yang — I would say so. When it comes to policies, I feel like it was very bland and not meaningful.

What needs to change? What should stay the same?

What needs to change is that we shouldn’t have two cisgender, heterosexual, white, old males deciding what happens to folks. I feel like we deserve change constantly. We need to improve to better help people in the U.S. We need to be considerate and support everyone, regardless of the identities they hold. We need to change these systems of oppression that are in place. They harm more folks than benefit. We need to change America but it’s hard when America is rooted in oppression.

This election was named by the population as “the most important election.” Do you believe that, and if so, why?

I believe it is the most important election. My reasoning for that is simple. We have two options. In my opinion, I believe they are both very bad options. Although, I'd rather see my queer community not mourn over the loss of their rights or my Black friends fear less of a system that was designed to hurt us. I don’t believe that the Democratic candidate is the golden ticket to a better world, but for right now, it will suffice. Human rights aren’t political, but this election has made them be political.


Lillian Uhl, a senior in physics, she/her/hers

As the election is over and we’re waiting for the results to come in, what did you think about this as a whole? From the Democratic nominees, debates up until now? 

As a whole, I thought this election was something that the U.S. has been building toward for a long time. It is my opinion that the racism — or complacency with racism, perhaps — xenophobia and anti-science mindset has been something that's been cultivated in the U.S. for a long time, and not just by the GOP. Throughout the 2010s, it was and is my opinion that people never sought to find common ground; instead, folks picked a few topics, drew their lines in the sand and became increasingly galvanized against any attempt to have their opinions on those issues swayed, with perhaps the most apparent ones being abortion rights, gun rights and LGBTQ+ rights. This particular election season, for me, started with the disappointment that was the management of the Iowa Democratic caucus; I view it now as something of a prologue to the wild ride that we've seen since. Trump always played to his base, and most Democratic nominees did what they could to avoid finding common ground or even seeing eye to eye with those that voted for Trump, until perhaps much later with some of the rhetoric that Biden used in the second and final presidential debate. I think the entire election was chock full of emotion, as my therapist put it, and that we are seeing the effects of hyper-polarization and personally controlled insulation against interaction with those that you do not agree with. 

What was the driving force behind your vote or why you chose not to vote? 

I voted for Biden because, to me, it was the only vote that took a step toward addressing the issues I addressed in point one. I did not have the luxury to vote third party, as my personal rights are on the line this election, and between Trump and Biden, Trump would be at best complacent with the attack on those rights and at worst actively antagonistic in his drive to strip them away. Further, as I mentioned before, Biden has used increasingly unionistic, bridge-building rhetoric, using phrasing such as "I don't see red or blue, I see Americans."

Do you think your community was represented during the election? 

The marginalized community that I most strongly identify with is that of trans women, for I am a trans woman. I do not think I was represented at all in this presidential election, though the historic point was set of a trans person being elected as a senator of Delaware. Between Trump and Biden and the debates, I hardly ever saw or heard discussion of LGBTQ+ concerns, let alone, in particular, transgender ones. What I meant in question two with my rights were being attacked were the rights that I deserve as a trans person such as that of having equal access to health care and respectful interaction in society. With his appointment of Amy Coney Barrett [ACB] as a justice of the Supreme Court, it has become the most probable case looking to the future that what rights we, trans people, have fought so hard for will most likely be stripped away or at least eroded, similar to the issues faced by cis women and the right to abortion (with ACB repeatedly making it clear she seeks to diminish the extent of pro-choice precedent).

What needs to change? What should stay the same?

There are many things in U.S. politics that need to change. The two most important ones, to me, have to deal with the mindset of the electorate, as I discussed in question one, and the national policies and procedures we have on voting. It's my perspective that we, as Americans, need to come together and seek to find common ground to discuss with one another. Instead of letting ourselves be defined by the topics we disagree on, we should build good will and try to truly listen and understand another, starting with the fact that there exist people with truly, fundamentally different starting points and beliefs than you or me. This is how I believe we can begin mending the polarization in the U.S.

As for voting policy, we were reduced to the choice of either Trump or Biden by the inherent dynamics of our voting system, commonly referred to either as a first-past-the-post [FPTP] system or single-member plurality voting system. One of the areas I'm particularly interested in in my studies, applied mathematics, is a field called dynamical systems. This area of mathematics has applications to political science and can be used to construct models of different voting systems. It is known that no voting system is perfect — see Arrow's theorem for more information — but it is also known, by the name Duverger's law, that FPTP systems will always tend to two-party systems when voters are strategic, like I, myself, was forced to be when I chose to vote for Biden as elaborated on in question two. Healthy third parties in the U.S. would, in my opinion, weaken the effects of polarization and begin to allow paths towards much more progressive change, such as universal health care. This is without getting into the increasingly discussed issues with the Electoral College system. In my opinion, major voting reform is needed addressing either of these issues, ideally both, and I think this is the most viable first step toward addressing the issues in modern U.S. politics.

As to what I think should stay the same, well, I think that the only thing I can say is something like, "All votes should be counted," which seems to be a divisive issue, going off the president's words. On a broader level, the American political system is broken in so many ways it is difficult to point to any particular component and say, "This is good as is.”

This election was named by the population as “the most important election.” Do you believe that, and if so, why? 

I do not believe this was the most important election. For instance, I think the second election of the U.S., when Washington refused to run for a third term, was an extremely important precedent. It is short-sighted, in my opinion, to think that the current election outweighs all previous elections. I think there are several important things about this election, but that is true about many of them at the end of the day. 

(1) comment

Mark Nelson

This election cemented a permanent divide in the US that will never be overcome. It's possible that this could lead to a dissolution of the United States.

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