Do the Democrats Want the Missing Voters?

Non voters

New Orleans        A nonpartisan research organization found that 37% of nonvoters in the midterms were 18 to 29 years old compared with just 12% of those who voted.  More than half of the nonvoters or 55% make less than $50,000 compared with 34% of voters, and only 20% of nonvoters have a college degree, less than half the 42% of voters who do.  These are people right in the heart of the classic ACORN constituency.  They also found that these voters were slightly inclined to vote more Democratic than they were Republican, but also were significantly undecided.  These missing, nonvoters were much less inclined to vote Democratic than the voters that actually came to the polls in the midterms.

Given this information, I have to wonder as Democratic strategists look at their work for the midterms and their coming prospects for the 2020 general election, whether the Democrats really want these missing voters to get to the polls and vote?  A classic organizing problem in community organizing, union elections, and political work is always, “How do you keep from turning out your opposition, rather than your supporters?”

In theory, in our democracy, we want everyone to vote, and sometimes we even say that’s the case.  Often the Republicans are painted as the king of voter suppressors, and no doubt they have earned the title, but I wonder when it comes to actually doing the hard GOTV work or investing in those “missing voters” actually showing up and participating, whether Democrats might be big talking and slow walking.

A surprising set of states stepped up against voter suppression.  Voters in Michigan chose to end partisan gerrymandering, as did citizens in Utah, Missouri, and Colorado.  Michigan and Maryland also approved same day registration for voters, and Nevada opted to register voters automatically when they become eighteen.  Utah and Missouri particularly have been “better red than dead” in many recent elections, but voters, regular citizens, seem to want to expand the franchise, rather than limit it.

When it comes to the so-called missing voters though, if we are going to really get them to saddle up and vote, we have to make sure they see voting as something that matters to them.  Suburban, college-educated women for example were low hanging fruit this election for the Democrats because Trump mattered to them, perhaps even more than whatever the Democratic candidate offered.  The Houston / Harris County blue tide miracle was made possible by a long ballot and the ability to do straight ticket voting along partisan lines with one pull of the lever, rather than working your way down 90 individual races.  Trump for bad, and Beto O’Rourke for good, and more than half of the voters there just pulled the lever.

The researchers found that most of the missing voters weren’t leaning either Republican or Democratic, but undecided or just clueless.  Talking to a woman on the phone in Detroit today, she described the problem succinctly:  people don’t think it matters and don’t see anything on the ballot or any candidate that is really talking to them.  As the Democrats refine their message and try to ride their wave, they may have decided not to put the time and money into moving these voters to the polls, when there were other constituencies that they felt were more reliable this election.

It’s those kinds of calculations that create the breeding ground for the Trumps of the future and more defeats to come.

We need automatic registration and mandatory and easily accessible voting that forces parties and candidates to do the work to meet the needs of all the people, not just the those of the donors and the latest focus groups and poll numbers.

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Ballot Measures Reveal a Kinder and Gentler America

New Orleans    The headline may be that the Senate is increasingly Republican, seeming to have picked up a couple of seats, and the House has seen the Democrats take control, picking up at least twenty-six seats, but that’s only part of the story.  When we move from the partisan divisions to look at some of the marquee ballot propositions, there’s an argument to be made that the majority is kinder and gentler than many in the parties and more progressive as well.

In blood red Louisiana, voters solidly ditched the requirement for unanimous juries that dated back 120 years to the Jim Crow racism that allowed 10 of 12 jurors to convict in a felony trial.  The top of the ballot may have been disappointing, though history was almost made in Florida, but on the ballot proposition voters restored the ability to vote to felons, which could be huge in that state in future elections.

Minimum wages measures reported thus far indicate that Arkansas and Missouri solidly approved significant increases in the minimum wage in both of those states.  It’s worth noting that we have not had an increase in the federal minimum wage since the end of George W Bush’s stint in the White House.  That’s ten long years, but there has not been a statewide ballot initiative on minimum wage that has lost since 1996!  What does that tell you about the deep support for a living wage across the map?  The results are still coming in and they aren’t all positive, but anti-gerrymandering measures have been approved in several places as well as climate change measures.  No matter what the president claims, the majority of Americans, when given a fair choice want to see everyone do better.  There’s love in the ballot propositions no matter how much hate there is in our politicians.

We also saw something else in the balloting in the midterms:  voting access matters.  At this minute Georgia has not been finally established, but the shenanigans by the secretary of state and now likely governor in that state were huge in the results.   Given the closeness of the race in Florida, it hard not to see the denial of ballot access as anything other than significant there.

On the bright side, voters pushed out two of the most militant vote suppressors and anti-poor people in the country.  Only two years ago Scott Walker in Wisconsin was arguing that his anti-union, anti-people program in that state was the ticket to the future.  He’s now on the unemployment line, and in a rich irony a former superintendent of education is going to be governor.  There can’t be a much more Republican state than Kansas, but Kris Kobach who has made a national reputation out of immigrant bashing and voter suppression in that state and others, even as secretary of state in Kansas, is now also hoping Trump gives him some kind of low-level job somewhere, because a female, Democratic legislator beat him for governor.

I don’t want any of us to be quick to judgement.  There’s a lot to learn from how people voted, and we need to look at ballot measures and candidates who speak to these lessons.

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