College students, some voting in a presidential election for the first time, entered an extended waiting period to see who the next president of the United States will be.
Voters submitted almost 64 million mail-in ballots for the 2020 election, according to The New York Times, and the time to process each ballot has extended the wait for a nation on edge.
John Brown University hosted the “Post-Election Panel” on Nov. 5, creating a space for students to process thoughts and emotions on the delayed results. The panel included Michelle Satterlee, assistant professor of psychology, Ed Ericson, vice president for academic affairs, Bella Bennett, senior political science major and Caroline White, senior English major.
Prior to the discussion, Satterlee shared a statement, crafted by faculty and staff members Daniel Bennett, Trisha Posey, Emily Moore and herself, to set the tone of the discussion. “While we do not put our hope in earthly kingdoms, we are to act as faithful citizens,” Satterlee said as she read a portion of the statement. “So, as we have our conversation, we would suggest these things: That no matter who finally wins the election, we want to remind one another that we trust in God’s kingdom and in that hope that it is more powerful than an earthly kingdom. Because of this reality, we want to place our love for others over our earthly political commitments.”
Rather than a forum where students listen to panelists and ask questions at the end of the event, the time was opened up for a discussion between students and panelists. Students asked the panelists questions about electoral votes and the impact of litigation from President Donald Trump.
Responding to a question on ligation, Ericson described the importance of recognizing the rules for each individual state. “This is not a national election. It’s 50 state elections, and that is why you are getting all of these different rules like, When do they count the ballots? Which ballots do they count when? What’s the process looking like?” Ericson said. “It’s the secretary of state in each one of these states that they’re all having these conversations with, and that’s why you’re getting all these different little lawsuits because each state’s different.”
Satterlee responded with an explanation on the impact of a ballot recount. “It’s been small numbers that have changed—not like tens of thousands. When there have been recounts and they have found errors, it’s been a couple of hundred votes difference not tens of thousands … The idea that a lot of the lawsuits have already been quickly decided; there’s no reason to expect that wouldn’t continue,” Satterlee said.
Later in the discussion, Satterlee gave the floor to students to express how they were feeling.
James Dabdub, sophomore outdoor leadership ministries major, shared that the uncertainty has hit him hard. “It’s given me a lot of anxiety because I have no idea what’s going to happen. It’s very unpredictable, and everyone made it out to be a bit more predictable than it was going to,” Dabdub said. “The fact that we had to worry about a single district in Nebraska—it has blown my mind how significant that has become.”
Ember Brown, junior family and human services major, described her experience as being the calm before the storm. “I personally feel that, in the [near] future, it’s not going to be an obvious change no matter who wins or loses, but I know that in some places … there’ll be violence and there’ll be super scary stuff happening in people’s hometowns,” Brown said. “It makes me really sad to think about that happening … that’s something I’m nervous for when the results finally come out.”
Responding to these concerns about the unknown, panelist Caroline White said, “I just think the pull is between we get to know a bit and we do get these bits of security in the knowledge that we are given. We also can drug ourselves with the idea that we have more security than we really do have. So, times like this are destabilizing because the lack of knowledge almost reminds us of what our actual place in the world is, which is that we don’t really control things.”
Students also shared concerns about entering into political conversations, especially as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches. Panelist Bella Bennett, offering advice, said, “Rather than shying away, a good encouragement would be to say, ‘What you’re feeling must be really hard. I’m sorry. Do you need to process any of that?’ … Asking the questions about ‘how can I love you best?’ right so that they know and they can feel more strongly that you’re still there for them even though there’s this divisive thing happening.”
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