Election 2018: A Good Day for Democracy

November 7, 2018

As a non-partisan organization that works to advance democracy, we do not take positions on candidate races, but we’re happy to report that Election Day 2018 yielded success for several important pro-democracy reforms.

Re-enfranchising Felons
In perhaps the most prominent 2018 ballot question  Florida voters terminated the state’s longstanding disenfranchisement of citizens who completed sentences for previous felony convictions. Voting eligibility now automatically will be reinstated upon completion of sentences.

Technically, a former felon could apply to have their voting rights restored after a 5-year wait, but it was an arduous, expensive and potentially decade-long process that required travelling to the capital to personally plead to Republican Governor Rick Scott. At the end of this process, Scott and three Cabinet members chose a small number of appeals they would consider. Even those few who traveled up to hundreds of miles to Tallahassee could be denied restoration of their vote purely at Scott’s whim, and routinely were. 1.4 million ex-felons who completed their sentences remain disenfranchised, including about one in five African Americans. Note: 82% of Florida’s felony convictions are for crimes not involving any form of violence or threat.

Ballot Access
Citizens of Michigan transformed the state’s laws from among the nation’s worst to among the best in ensuring voting opportunity and fairness. Voters approved a ballot initiative to create an independent non-partisan commission to handle redistricting and eliminate extreme gerrymandering.

Voters also approved ballot questions to implement automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration and by-right absentee voting (no one need claim a hardship will keep them from voting in person).

In Nevada, citizens now will be registered automatically if they obtain any identification through the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. They’ll also be able to register to vote on Election Day, as opposed to the state’s current registration cut-off of 30 days before an election.

Voters in Maryland soon will be able to register to vote and cast a ballot on Election Day, too.

Democratizing Redistricting
Along with Michigan, Colorado passed an Amendment that will prevent or minimize partisan advantage in creating legislative districts. Districts will be created by a panel with 4 Republican, 4 Democratic and 4 independent participants. A suer-majority of 8 votes will be required to create district maps. Utah voters also narrowly passed a rather convoluted redistricting initiative that will make the process more bipartisan.

Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 1, which shifts redistricting decisions to non-partisan officials and caps campaign contributions. The Amendment also requires legislators and employees wait two years from the end of the legislative session in which they served to become a paid lobbyist.

Prominent Vote Suppressors Defeated
In Kansas, Republican Kris Kobach, a leading architect of racist voter suppression tactics, was beaten decisively in his quest for Governor despite Kansas’ “deep red” electorate. The defeat came despite using his power as the sitting Secretary of State to stack the deck in his favor. And from North Dakota came this especially gratifying result: the Republican state representative who sponsored the 2018 law that aimed to strip many Native Americans of their vote (Randy Boehning) was defeated by Ruth Buffalo — a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.

The Bad: Voter ID and Voter Suppression
The existence of in-person voter fraud on any scale sufficient to impact elections anywhere is a mythical beast created to justify vote suppression. But in two states, voters approved new voter ID requirements. North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment to require photo ID at the polls, and Republicans now will get to decide what forms of ID will be accepted (hint: look for the most restrictive rules possible). Arkansas voters also passed a voter ID amendment, though the state will be obliged to provide IDs for free.

Lastly, the most egregious attack on democracy is occurring in Georgia, where Steve Kemp is attempting to abuse his power as secretary of state to disenfranchise tens of thousands of citizens while he is running for governor. An estimated 70 percent of his victims are black, as is his opponent, Stacey Abrams.

 

For more reporting on these topics, we recommend Demos and the Brennan Center for Justice. While ReclaimDemocracy.org supports non-partisan redistricting, same-day registration and many other state-level pro-democracy reforms, we believe national action also is essential, including amending the U.S. Constitution to establish a federal right to vote. If you thought already had such a right, please see Beyond the Voting Rights Act: Why We Need a Constitutional Right to Vote.