There is so much at stake this mid-term election. Organizers, activists and candidates alike have been focused more than ever on Get Out the Vote efforts, knowing that turnout will be the deciding factor in many tight races. There are signs it’s working – more than 30 million Americans have cast early ballots so far, which has already surpassed 2014 early voting, and more are still coming in. Still, on average only about 40% of eligible voters participate in mid-term elections, and even the best case scenarios do not assume turnout this time around will exceed 50%.
Most of the attention this election is on swing seats in House and Senate, which will determine which party will hold the majority of seats going into the next session. Additionally, all eyes are on historical gubernatorial races in Florida and Georgia, where Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams are running on campaigns for fully funding supports-based education, expanding access to health care, protecting voting rights, reforming criminal justice and addressing climate change. The potential for replacing the historic policies rooted in racism and hate with policies that provide love and support to all is what is at stake in these elections, but the candidates aren’t the only reason to get out the vote this election cycle.
Garnering much less attention, but still of critical importance, are the ballot measures that are up for votes in each state across the country. Civic engagement isn’t just about selecting our representatives for national, state and local seats – voters get to shape the actual policies directly with their votes on important measures that go straight to The People, and this cycle there are key decisions shaping social justice that our elected officials are asking the people to weigh in on. Getting out the vote and ensuring people are aware of the measures on their ballots could mean passing critical measures for funding schools and transportation, reinstating voting rights in places where suppression has been allowed for far too long, and reforming the ways our local and state systems work to provide an opportunity for all. Platforms like Justice on the Ballot highlight some of the most critical measures on state ballots this election, and actionable ways to get involved in last minute calls to mobilize voters around those issues.
Here are some examples of state measures on education equity and social justice that provide yet another reason to get out the vote:
- Increasing investments in schools in Colorado (Amendment 73 and local school bond proposals), Georgia, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Utah: In Colorado, an unprecedented $3 billion dollars for school funding is on the ballot to increase the number of classrooms, improve school infrastructure, retain more teachers and counselors, and provide special programs to meet the rapidly growing student population in Colorado. Voters in Georgia, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Utah are also being asked to support measures that open the door for more funding for K-12 and higher education, through sales taxes, property taxes, bonds or fuel taxes. And in Arizona, voters will decide whether to repeal the law that allows families to draw public funds to pay for private school tuition and other education-related expenses.
- Increasing the minimum wage in Arkansas (Issue 5): This citizen-initiated proposed statue would raise the state’s hourly minimum wage from $8.50 to $11 by 2021. The Loving Cities Index for Little Rock highlights working poverty as a critical issue (people working full-time with income below 200% of federal poverty level). With over 30% of Latino and 15% of Black full-time workers not earning enough to make ends meet in Little Rock (compared to only 5% of White full-time workers), a change to minimum wage could dramatically impact access to resources and supports for children from lower income communities and communities of color.
- Restoring voting rights (Amendment 4) and banning oil and gas drilling in Florida (Amendment 9): Florida is one of only four states with a lifetime ban on voting because of a prior felony conviction, and as a result, 1.4 million Floridians are permanently excluded from voting. Having a vote, especially for those that have paid their debts and want to be civically engaged, is critical to ensuring our systems are set up to support and provide paths to opportunity. Environmental protection in Florida has also become a central issue with green algae and “red tide” infesting shorelines, killing marine life, harming humans and stifling tourism. With pollution, health and education outcomes inextricably linked, measures and elected officials that will reinstate the environmental regulations gutted under Governor Scott’s watch will contribute to better systems for healthy living and learning environments.
- Requiring unanimous juries to convict someone of a felony in Louisiana (Amendment 2): Louisiana is one of only two states that allows a jury to convict someone even if two people on the jury don’t think that person is guilty. As a result, Louisiana has the second highest incarceration rate in the world. Reforming our criminal justice systems to restore justice in ways that rehabilitate and keep families together ensures that children have love, support and stability, and can come to school ready to learn.
- Defeating a voter suppression initiative in North Carolina (Voter ID Amendment): This initiative would add a photo ID requirement for voting to the state constitution, affecting 281,000 residents who do not currently have photo ID by effectively disqualifying them from voting in 2020 if passed.
- Changing drug possession to a misdemeanor in Ohio (Issue 1): This would cause approximately 10,000 people to be released early from prison in Ohio next year, and contribute to less spending on our prison industrial complex. In addition to keeping people out of jail for drug possession, it would prevent people from being imprisoned for non-criminal probation violations.
- Creating an independent redistricting commission in Colorado (Amendments Y and Z), Michigan (proposal 2), Missouri (Amendment 1) and Utah (Proposition 4). Several states are taking on partisanship in drawing district lines in favor of independent commissions that would aim to increase transparency and fairness. These ballot initiatives in addition to related measures in these states and others that increase ease of voting and limit campaign spending all aim to make the processes for electing representatives more fair and accessible.
- Protecting transgender rights in Massachusets (question 3): The law passed in 2016 protecting transgender people from discrimination in public places, including restaurants, stores, hospitals, libraries and gyms, will face potential repeal, which would roll back the hard fought anti-discrimination laws that protect the human rights of transgender people. With the White House considering harmful, hate-inspired changes to the definition of gender under federal civil rights laws, it's more important than ever that we reaffirm our commitment to gender equity and fair treatment of all people at the local and state levels this election.
With one day left to go, VOTE, VOTE, VOTE! And call on your friends and community members to vote as well. There is too much at stake to sit this election out – the future of our children and their access to healthy living and learning environments where they can succeed depends on us. Let’s make sure we are not only electing individuals that will fight for the rights and opportunities for ALL, but that we are taking the time to support the ballot measures that open up resources and supports for children and families.