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Diversity on the ballot

Brian Kaneb | Friday, October 26, 2012

The general election may be about two weeks away, but many who will not be in their districts at that time will already have voted by means of an absentee ballot. These early votes as a proportion of the total votes have increased from 20 percent in 2004 to 30 percent in 2008, and are expected to account for 35 percent in the upcoming election, according to Dr. Michael McDonald of George Madison University. For those familiar with the Electoral College, that is the equivalent of an astounding 188 delegates having their votes set in stone before Nov. 6.
I became a part of this trend when I sent in my absentee ballot just a few days ago. This may have been my first time voting for president, but even I noticed a difference in the candidates this time around. White Protestant males have long dominated politics in our country, with all but two presidents meeting these criteria. While it would be an overstatement to say their stronghold has ceased to exist, the choices I faced this election reminded me the establishment parties have at least come to terms with the increasing influence of previously powerless minorities.
Perhaps the most relatable race to prove this point is the one for the presidency. Whereas President John Kennedy faced prejudice simply for being a Catholic in 1960, both Vice President Joe Biden and Representative Paul Ryan speak as if they have been invited to be open about the same faith. The latter stands as being extremely vocal about his religion. In the wake of losing his wife and daughter in a tragic car accident, Biden has come to terms with the fact his faith “defines who he is” and “has particularly informed [his] social doctrine.” In a similar way, Ryan has aspired to have his work “conform to the social doctrine of as best [he] can make of it.” It is hard to imagine the candidates being so blunt just a few decades ago, but with minority babies outnumbering majority babies for the first time, the political campaigns know this will not have negative electoral consequences.
This is not to say the two fall in line with their religion on every issue. Not only does the Catholic Church disagree with Biden on abortion, but the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has also criticized the budget put forth by Ryan for failing to meet its “moral criteria.” Gov. Mitt Romney may seem like the epitome of the establishment at times, but he is still a Mormon. Gallup found that 20 percent of Americans would not vote for a Mormon for the presidency, which is even more surprising considering this number is the same as in 1968. Yet Romney realizes the relative importance of these votes decreasing. This was seen at the Republican National Convention when the campaign received positive attention for inviting “several Mormons” to “speak to Romney’s religion and service to his faith.” Of course Barack Obama is the first African-American president, but as the only Protestant of the major candidates, even he is at odds with his predecessors in that he “was not raised in a religious household.”
My local races reflect the changing times as well. Both Scott Brown and John Tierney are white males running for re-election in Massachusetts, but their opponents would not have been welcomed in the past. Elizabeth Warren is known for creating controversy by claiming Native American heritage, but nonetheless she would be the first woman to serve in the Senate from my home state. Still, it is Richard Tisei who hit home on the point of diversity. On top of campaigning to become the only Republican representative from Massachusetts, he would also serve as the first openly gay congressman in his Party. He is quick to point out “a lot of members have made it a point to come up to me and tell me that they’re very supportive of me because they believe that the party needs to be more diverse.”          
Whether or not we have reached the end of the road is up for debate, but this election makes it clear the two parties have moved towards the acceptance of minorities.
Brian Kaneb is a junior studying political science. He can be reached at bkaneb1@nd.edu
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.