Voices & Choices

Democracy was on the ballot in 2018 -- and democracy won big

Democracy was on the ballot in 2018 -- and democracy won big

In Memphis, of course, more than 63 percent of voters demanded the opportunity to use ranked choice voting in municipal elections, and pushed back against an appeal effort by the city council.

But plenty of other victories arrived nationwide. Voters approved ballot questions that will help rein in extreme partisan gerrymandering, restore voting rights to citizens who have completed a felony sentence, and expand the use of same-day voter registration.

Anti-gerrymandering measures were on the ballot in four states -- and all appear to have passed. Victories were overwhelming in Michigan, Missouri and especially Colorado, where support surpassed 70 percent. Redistricting reform holds a narrower edge in Utah, with almost 80 percent of the vote counted.

Each initiative creates a slightly different process. Missouri will add a state demographer to draw non-partisan lines and add competitiveness and partisan balance as goals. Michigan and Colorado will create independent commissions of Democrats, Republicans and independents outside the political process. Utah’s proposal would put an advisory commission appointed by political leaders in charge, creating a layer of distance between politicians and the maps, but not removing the legislature entirely.

Colorado and Utah’s efforts involved bipartisan compromise to craft a new system. In Michigan and Missouri, grass-roots activists collected hundreds of thousands of signatures to place the initiatives on the ballot, then both survived dramatic legal challenges in state supreme court.

Florida, meanwhile, may have passed the most dramatic reform. The state voted to restore voting rights to more than 1.4 million convicted felons who have completed their sentence. Florida had been home to the largest number of disenfranchised “returning citizens” of any state in the nation, and had one of the most restrictive procedures for having the right to vote reinstated -- a vestige of racist Jim Crow policies. The initiative needed 60 percent supermajority support to pass, but framed as an issue of fairness and second chances, drew wide support from voters across the political spectrum.

Finally, three states -- Maryland, Nevada and Michigan -- approved automatic voter registration, which will make it possible for citizens to show up at the polls on Election Day, register, and cast a ballot.

Questions of voter suppression formed the backdrop of the 2018 midterms: Voter purges whacked hundreds of thousands of voters off the rolls in many states, and restrictive new ID provisions in North Dakota, for example, drew criticism for requiring Native Americans to show ID with a street address, which most living on tribal land simply do not have. That makes this widespread support for an expansive democracy agenda -- from red states, blue states and purple states -- all the more important.

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Illustration by Mikhaila Markham

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