In Missouri, voters elected to undo an anti-gerrymandering reform that they had supported with 62% of the vote in 2018. This time, just 51% of voters supported the reversal of that fairer redistricting initiative. The new amendment eliminates the position of nonpartisan demographer who, under the 2018 reform, would have drawn the district lines after the results of the 2020 census were finalized.
More importantly, the amendment diminishes the fairness and competitiveness criteria that were to be part of the calculation for drawing those boundaries. The original criteria approved in 2018 had called for districts with equal populations; that didn’t marginalize minority communities; and that were fair and competitive in terms of political party divisions as well.
Former Felon Voting
California voters passed Proposition 17 with 59% approval. Prop 17 will restore voting rights to 50,000 former felons who are now parolees, allowing them to register to vote. Former felons on probation already have the right to vote in California.
Proponents of the new law, including Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (D), say it is good for democracy and public safety. In a statement reported in the Los Angeles Times, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) said, “Research shows that in jurisdictions where voting rights are more easily restored, formerly incarcerated individuals re-offend at lower rates.”
Alaska and Florida had ballot measures on whether to allow some form of open primary. An open primary is one in which voters can vote for candidates of any party affiliation. Some states require registered Democrats or Republicans to vote on separate ballots, which only list candidates of their party.
Only Alaskans approved this change to primary voting. In Florida, the proposal had to attain a supermajority of voters, or 60%, to pass, but came up short with 57%. The Fulcrum reports that Republican and Democratic leaders both generally oppose open primaries, because such a system would remove the guarantee that one candidate from each party would be placed on a ballot.
Open Primaries, an organization advocating for electoral reform, said it will continue to push for change in 2021 and beyond. They argue that open primaries make the political system work better by rewarding candidates who appeal to the center instead of to the red or blue bases.
Other Ballot Measures
Other 2020 ballot measures included citizenship requirement for voting, opportunities to change the way the president is selected, and an effort to combat monetary influence in elections:
- Alabama, Colorado, and Florida all passed measures specifying that voters must be US citizens. Similar measures had previously passed in North Dakota and Arizona. As reported by the Colorado Sun, opponents noted that such measures may confuse people into thinking “there’s not already a citizenship requirement to vote in almost all elections nationwide”, said Julian Camera, a field organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado. In an election year when the Republican Party repeatedly and falsely claimed massive voter fraud, this kind of ballot measure likely contributed to baseless concerns regarding the integrity of the final election results.
- Colorado also voted to eliminate the right of 17-year-old citizens to vote in primary elections, even if they will reach the age of 18 by Election Day. California rejected a similar proposal (Prop 18) that would have granted 17-year-olds the right to vote in primary and special elections.
- A majority of Coloradans voted “yes” to have Colorado join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would give the state’s nine electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote if states representing at least 270 Electoral College votes had adopted the compact. Colorado joins 14 states and the District of Columbia in supporting the popular vote as a means to election.,
- Alaska passed its Better Elections measure to fight the presence of “dark money” in Alaska elections, and Oregon voters passed a measure that supports campaign finance reform.
A Cautious Celebration
2020 was a good year in many respects for extending voting rights and making elections more competitive. Nonetheless, in our democracy, issues are not always settled by one election. Rather than accept and support the people’s decisions on particular ballot initiatives, some state legislatures have used new ballot initiatives, as we saw in Missouri, as well as new legislation and court battles to defy the intentions of those measures and the will of the majority.
In Florida, for example, a 2018 initiative won with 65% of the vote to reinstate voting rights to former felons who had served their time in prison. Those opposed to that decision passed legislation to undermine it, then fought a court battles that culminated in 2020 with a final series of court cases that ultimately denied most eligible former felons voting rights if they couldn’t pay off court debts and restitution before registering to vote. However, in Michigan, after a long and costly court battle, the people were able to retain the new, nonpartisan redistricting commission that they had campaigned and voted for in 2018.
As these examples demonstrate, and the baseless accusations of voter fraud demand, voters need to remain vigilant and engaged once their ballots are cast. No decision can be considered permanent when one side refuses to respect the vote, and particularly in our current political climate, no battle can ever be considered over.
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