In a tough election season, human needs advocates mark progress
“When people were selling the politics of fear and division and destruction, we were talking about hope. We were talking about the politics of joy.” — U.S. Rep-Elect Ilhan Omar.
Despite a backdrop of xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and racism, human needs advocates achieved progress on a number of issue fronts in this week’s elections.
From health care to housing, from redistricting reform to expanding access to the ballot box, the results of ballot measures across the country will mean fewer Americans will lack health care or a roof over their heads. Fewer still will live in political districts drawn like amoeba in order to protect the wealthy and powerful. Nearly one million low-income workers will see their wages climb. Ballot measures passed in six states – Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Rhode Island — will culminate in nearly $900 million in education funding.
And in Florida alone, 1.4 million citizens who have completed sentences after a felony conviction will have their voting rights restored.
Here are some highlights from Tuesday’s election.
Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah approved ballot measures to expand Medicaid. Eventually, this means that 35 states plus Washington, D.C. will have expanded Medicaid – and the possibility exists that more states will move in this direction in 2019 and 2010.
Families USA celebrated this victory.
“Health care wins at the ballot, and the voters of Idaho, Utah, and Nebraska gave historic victories to provide health care coverage for adults and families in their states,” said Patrick Willard, Senior Director of State and National Strategic Partnerships at Families USA. “Families USA is proud of the work of our health care partners who were successfully able to educate and support the measures to expand Medicaid. The people of Utah, Idaho, and Nebraska have spoken loud and clear after waiting years for their elected leaders to ensure their families, friends, and neighbors have access to affordable, live-saving health coverage.”
The health care ballot measures received moderate coverage leading up to Tuesday’s elections. Less heralded, however, were ballot measures held in well over a dozen towns, cities and states across the country that dealt with the issue of affordable housing.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the number of pro-housing initiatives this year was “unprecedented.” In California, voters approved measures creating billions in funding for the construction of affordable housing for the chronically homeless, people with disabilities or mental illness, and military veterans.
In San Francisco, voters approved a measure providing $2.4 billion for affordable housing and wrap-around services for the chronically homeless. Voters in Austin, Texas, approved a $250 million affordable housing bond. Oregon voters passed two ballot initiatives to make access to safe and affordable homes possible for 12,000 of the lowest income people in that state. Other pro-housing measures passed in Charlotte and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and in Bellingham and San Juan County in Washington state.
Other significant victories were recorded on the living wage front, according to the National Employment Law Project. Voters in Arkansas and Missouri overwhelmingly approved minimum wage increases to $11 and $12, respectively – a reform that NELP says will raise wages for 977,000 workers. In Anaheim, California, voters agreed that employers receiving city subsidies should begin paying their employees $15 in 2019, gradually rising to $18 in 2022. In Flagstaff, Arizona, opponents to the minimum wage failed to roll back the city’s minimum wage to state levels.
In four states, the big winner of Tuesday’s elections was voting itself. Florida, Maryland, Michigan, and Nevada approved measures making it easier to vote. The marquis result was in Florida, where voters by an almost 2-1 margin approved a measure that would restore full voting rights to 1.4 million people who have served their time for felony sentences.
States also approved redistricting reforms. In a major victory in the fight against partisan gerrymandering, Colorado, Michigan, and Missouri passed ballot initiatives that will create independent redistricting commissions to determine congressional districts. This will take redistricting out of the hands of the state legislatures. (In Utah, a similar initiative currently leads by a narrow margin of just over 4,000 votes — less than one percentage point.)
Criminal justice reform also was on the ballot in a number of states. In Louisiana, voters nixed a Jim Crow-era law that allows split juries to convict people of felonies. This law was seen as an effort to circumvent the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that bans the striking of African Americans from juries due to race. By requiring only 10 out of 12 jurors to convict someone of a felony, the state reduced the power of African Americans on juries – and the results of this practice were profound. Louisiana long has had a reputation for its large number of wrongful convictions, and more than 40 percent of people who have been recently exonerated of crimes in Louisiana were found guilty by non-unanimous juries.
In one state, Massachusetts, transgender rights were on the ballot. According to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, voters in the Bay State became the first anywhere to be asked whether they wanted to retain a statewide law protecting transgender people’s equal access to public places. The law had been passed in 2016 with bipartisan support and signed by a Republican governor. It ensured that transgender people could eat, shop, work and go to school on equal footing with others. Opponents of the law gathered the bare minimum of required signatures to force a ballot measure overturning the law, but thankfully it failed overwhelmingly, 68 percent to 32 percent.
Despite sweeping victories on ballot measures across the country for human needs advocates, the election season was marked by divisiveness, and, as noted above, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and racism.
But the election was not without its ironies. Two years ago, campaigning at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport, then-candidate Donald Trump told an audience that Minnesota had “suffered enough” at the hands of Somali immigrants, many of whom settled in Minnesota after their home government collapsed in 1991 and civil war broke out.
On Tuesday, one of those refugees, Ilhan Omar, won election to Congress, winning three out of every four votes cast in her district. “Here in Minnesota, we don’t only welcome immigrants; we send them to Washington,” Omar told supporters at a victory party, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
To see CHN’s statement on the elections, click here.