BENTON TOWNSHIP — Be patient and take a deep breath.
That was the mantra repeated at the beginning and end of a post-election panel held online by Lake Michigan College on Wednesday.
While the country waited to see who would be president for the next four years, the panel provided analysis of election results and discussed the implications for the country’s political landscape heading into 2021.
Political science professor Tiffany Bohm and psychology professors Mya Hernandez and Amy Scrima answered questions from the public, which ranged from worst-case scenarios to how effective polling was this year.
Bohm, who led the discussion, used data from FiveThirtyEight, ABC News and the Michigan secretary of state.
“This is a period of uncertainty,” she said. “Some things we are aware of. Some things we are not.”
One thing that was a certainty by Wednesday morning was the record voter turnout across the country. Bohm said close to 160 million people voted, for a voter turnout of 67 percent.
Bohm pointed out that such a turnout is very rare for the U.S. She said the last time there was this high of a turnout was in 1900.
Michigan saw a rise in participation, particularly among younger voters. There was a 13 percent voter turnout for 18- to 29-year-olds, which was substantial compared to previous presidential elections.
One of the questioners asked what the worst-case scenario is for how long it may take before the next president is known.
This comes as President Donald Trump and his campaign have mounted legal challenges in Michigan and Pennsylvania, while also submitting a recount challenge in Wisconsin.
“We will likely have unofficial results by the end of the week. Official results will likely come next week,” Bohm said. “It takes longer because absentee ballots and early voting ballots have to be opened and judged by members of both political parties to ensure validity.”
The federal deadline for the Electoral College to meet and complete election results is in mid-December.
For comparison, the result of the George W. Bush and Al Gore race was announced on Dec. 12, 2000 – more than a month after the general election.
But that’s the worst-case scenario, Bohm said.
“The challenges that have been outlined are at the state level and have the ability to be resolved at the state level fairly quickly,” she said.
Regarding local races, Bohm said she was surprised by the senate race between incumbent Gary Peters and challenger John James. Polls initially gave Peters a 3- to 4-point lead, but the incumbent had to play catch up Wednesday as votes from Wayne County helped him surpass James.
“I’m surprised how close it was,” Bohm said. “As far as Rep. (Fred) Upton, I’m not surprised. The polling for those were done well.”
Bohm said polling is a snapshot in time, and that it is not always reliable.
“You are trying to make a prediction of things to happen in the future,” Bohm said. “They are always changing. Statistical models are affected by several things, including a history of voters. When you have millions of new, first-time voters, that skews the numbers because we don’t know how they will vote.”
A participant asked the panel why voting differed so much between rural and urban areas.
Hernandez said those areas are affected by different values and economic levels.
“In terms of what’s going on in people’s lives, living in the city, you have close access to doctors, police and fire departments,” Hernandez said. “In more rural areas, you may have to travel farther to access those resources. They may rely on their own family and friends for those resources.”
Lastly, Scrima discussed how the country can move forward – especially when the nation is split by an “us-versus-them” mentality.
She said it is everyone’s responsibility to bridge the divide that has taken hold.
“How can we get to a place where we can talk to each other respectfully? We need to first recognize the differences. Maybe there’s something people can learn from another person’s perspective. But in order to do that, we have to have a dialogue,” Scrima said. “That’s what’s gotten tricky. My feeling is we all have a part to play. It’s a human problem. We as a species need to learn how to talk to one another, knowing we we all not be alike.”