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.


No Matter What Happens on Election Day, there are Some Encouraging Signs

New Orleans        On the balcony of our office with a slight breeze on an unseasonably warm day, we talked about elections scheduled for 2019 in Albania and Bulgaria.   Earlier in the day I had forwarded an article from the Journal to colleagues in France and Cameroon about the months every year that the longtime and recently re-elected president of that country spends with his wife and entourage at great national expense at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva, Switzerland.  My point?  Everything is relative.  There’s no flat ground in the fight to advance democracy and build power for the powerless, it’s all mountains to climb every day, including Election Day which is just one day of many.

Which brings me to some encouraging developments in the United States, regardless of the outcome of the midterm elections, that give hope from citizen participation and democracy in the future.

One was the long overdue defeat of Kansan Kris Kobach’s efforts to create a flawed and partisan software to restrict access to the ballot under the false flag of voter fraud.  Kobach has been the scourge of immigrants and voters for a decade and most recently as secretary of state in Kansas.  He’s now in a deadlock race for governor as the Republican nominee, and for the sake of brothers and sisters in that state, we can only express sympathy and hope that he won’t prevail in the same way that his software scam called Crosscheck has also failed.  Kobach had convinced more than half of the states around the country for a time to use the software because it supposedly cleaned the voter registration lists, despite tremendous evidence of false results.  Finally, researchers at Harvard, Stanford, and Microsoft analyzed the software and found the number of false positives unconscionable.  ProPublica found that it was also chockfull of security flaws.  Kobach’s long con was simply to get rid of non-Republican voters, and it finally caught up with him so that Crosscheck is “essentially dormant” to quote the Times.  In its place is something called ERIC, the Electronic Registration Information Center, which cleans up the rolls and identifies eligible voters.  ERIC is now used by 24 states from red Louisiana to blue Illinois.  The arc of justice is long, but true.

The other hugely encouraging development has been the activation of women all over the country.  I have witnessed this first hand in city after city where I’ve been with “The Organizer” documentary and my book, Nuts and Bolts.  In reaction to Trump and his misogyny, they have literally come out of the woodwork in their kitchens and living rooms.  I can’t even describe how big my smile was as I read about the ReSistas, women who have worked hard and enjoyed a glass of wine, in Orange County, California, as they pushed conservative flamethrower Darryl Issa into resigning there, and are still hunting elephant.  They are not alone, but joined by a grassroots resistance to the horror of our President, his politics, and his party, that no matter the results of any one election, will not be stopped until they win.

No matter how the votes turn out, these are developments that are unstoppable.