We may not know the results of the presidential race yet, but we do know a bit about the lessons we might need to take away from this election cycle. It’s raised questions about polling, and what a renewed lack of faith in it could mean for politics and policy going forward. (Read a full-throated defense from FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver here.) It’s exposed once again the disconnect between newsrooms across the country and a large swath of voters (and the lack of diversity in those newsrooms, as well as the negative impacts of the disappearance of local journalism.) It’s a reminder that Latino voters are not a monolith. And it shows we remain deeply divided and have a lot of work ahead to advance principles of racial justice and equality. But there is also much to celebrate: Criminal justice initiatives to expand police oversight and decriminalize drugs, among others, passed. Successful measures around ranked-choice voting and redistricting will help advance our democracy. And there were many barrier-breaking firsts in down-ballot races across the country. But we may face several years of gridlock on issues critical to the American people, notably health care reform, unless we figure out how to move forward in a way that allows bipartisanship and civility to prevail.
Criminal Justice Reforms
By Evan Mintz, Communications Manager
Criminal justice reform was on the ballot this week. State and local referenda, elections for district attorneys and sheriffs, and a litany of down-ballot races all had outcomes that will shape the future of our nation’s courts, prisons, jails and law enforcement.
What Happened: The defeat of California’s Prop. 25, which would have eliminated cash bail, was a blow to the reform movement, but other successes across the nation will work to expand oversight of policing, bolster alternatives to arrest, and bring a new vision into prosecutors’ offices. And Oregon’s decriminalization of opioids, cocaine, and other drugs shows that efforts to roll back the War on Drugs won’t end at marijuana.
Why It Matters: Bipartisan support for criminal justice reform was brought into question as the “defund the police” movement and protests were used as attack lines by “tough on crime” politicians. Successes at the ballot box show that voters really do want to reimagine how the criminal justice system works. The failure of Prop. 25, which was opposed from the left and the right, also has advocates rethinking the best ways to hold together a broad coalition in support of reform.
What’s Next: Voters did their part. Now lawmakers need to take this momentum into upcoming legislative sessions. Meanwhile, we’ll wait and see whether new DAs live up to their promises of change from within.
This election cycle saw myriad down-ballot measures that are important to the health of our democracy. AV’s Vice President Sam Mar breaks down how they went:
Ranked-Choice Voting: First, an explanation: Ranked-choice voting is a system whereby voters literally rank their choices in order of preference: first, second, and third choice. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, they are the winner. If no candidate does, voting is counted by round, with lowest-ranked candidates eliminated in each round until only two candidates remain. Ranked-choice voting aims to increase electoral fairness by providing more choice for voters and ensuring majority support of candidates. Five cities had ranked-choice voting (RCV) on the ballot. All passed:
Minnesota: The cities of Bloomington and Minnetonka have approved the use of ranked-choice voting for municipal elections. There’s potential for statewide reform in the future.
Colorado: Boulder passed a measure for the use ranked-choice voting. It allows voters to elect the mayor directly rather than through the city council. The use of RCV reduces the likelihood of votes being divided among several popular but similar candidates.
California: In Albany, Measure BB passed establishing ranked-choice voting for city council members and the Albany Unified School District Board. In Eureka, Measure C passed allowing ranked-choice voting for the office of mayor and council members.
What Didn't Make It: Massachusetts did not pass Question 2, which would have implemented ranked-choice voting in primary and general elections for all Massachusetts statewide offices, state legislative offices, and federal congressional offices.
What We're Still Watching: In Alaska, Ballot Measure 2 would replace closed partisan primaries with an open primary system and ranked-choice voting general election. We will not know the final results in Alaska until Nov. 10, when absentee and early votes are tabulated.
Redistricting Reform: This is a way to combat gerrymandering, where parties draw legislative districts that all but ensure their party remains in power. When lawmakers draw district lines to entrench one party’s political power, some votes end up counting more than others, skewing elections, often disenfranchising communities of color, and thwarting the will of voters. Anti-gerrymandering measures were on the ballot in Missouri and Virginia:
Virginia:Amendment 1 passed, approving the 2020 Virginia Redistricting Commission Amendment, which would establish a political commission in order to draw the districts of the U.S House of Representatives seats in Virginia, as well as the districts of the Virginia House of Delegates and State Senate. The measure makes history by ending the state’s history of gerrymandering voting districts.
Missouri: Amendment 3 was passed, rolling back reforms, preserving the status quo, and enabling the party in power to gerrymander voting districts.
How Can Police Defend
By Evan Mintz, Communications Manager
In the 2020 election cycle, political tensions have reached an unprecedented level, and law enforcement agencies are finding themselves caught in the middle. That’s why the National Police Foundation is laying out best practices for local law enforcement during election season with the online resource kit “Policing In The Time Of Elections,” which was supported by AV.
What It Is: The kit outlines recommended practices and helps ensure officers and communities know the role that police are expected and depended on to play in our democracy and includes proactive communications strategies and guidance for providing public safety responses.
Why It Matters: Political tensions have reached a level unprecedented in the modern era, and law enforcement agencies are caught in the middle. The civic health of our nation relies on law enforcement agencies supporting democratic values and systems. But it isn’t enough just to do the right thing — the public also has to perceive law enforcement as a neutral, nonpartisan actor. That’s not always easy when police unions and individual officers publicly endorse candidates. Law enforcement leaders need to communicate to their own staff and to their communities that law enforcement exists to defend the right to vote.
Reaction and responses to the release of 911 calls and body camera footage of the Walter Wallace shooting in Philadelphia, including a plan for teams of crisis workers and police officers to respond jointly to some behavioral-health-related calls, via The Wall Street Journal.
How the record number of women and women of color running from both parties fared in the 2020 election, via ABC News, including Cori Bush, who will be the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress.
Good news for second chances: Washington attorney Tarra Simmons becomes the first person in the state’s legislature in modern history who was convicted of a felony, via The Appeal.
Vox writing on how Election Day was a referendum on the war on drugs.
The launch of a safe harbor court in Houston to help those who cannot afford to pay fines resolve their cases without entering delinquency, losing a driver’s license, or facing arrest, via The Houston Chronicle.
Reporting from high school journalism students (!) in Kentucky that led to the resignation of Kentucky Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer over controversial training materials.
The New York Times reporting on surprise COVID-19 and PPE charges being added to patients’ medical bills. This new twist on an old practice takes advantage of people at their most vulnerable and is attracting the attention of consumer protection agencies.
A look at rapidly rising costs for common health care services and the large geographic variations in those costs across the country, via Peterson-KFF.
As we’ve seen in real-time, states and counties in the U.S. have their own processes and laws around counting ballots. This Vox video does a good job of explaining how we vote, how news organizations make projections (sometimes erroneously), the way votes are certified, and why the process can take time, especially in a pandemic.
It felt like a good week to harken back to the somewhat musical origins of this section. If you’ve never heard of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, I’m here to tell you they are universally well-loved, and you should love them, too. Their music has a mesmerizing quality rooted in perspective: historical meets present day, and a guitar riff or lyric can lead you in a direction you weren't expecting. The duo had a tough year that led in many unexpected directions. In March, they almost lost all their recordings and equipment when a tornado ripped through their Tennessee home. Then came the pandemic. So they started making more music. “Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs,” salvaged from their flooded studio, is just the latest, writes Hanif Abdurraqib in this excellent New York Times Magazine profile. “With the country careering toward new depths of uncertainty, Welch and Rawlings have discovered a new emotional urgency. They are once again returning to what they know: songs about the slow, challenging, beautiful heat of living, about people having to make hard decisions on a path to goodness.” And about, as Abdurraqib says, redemption and optimism. My favorite quote of the interview comes at the end, as Welch considers her own optimism: “I don’t believe anyone is going to stop the spirit of all the humans out there.”
For the uninitiated, the classic track “Hard Times” is a good place to start:
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Stephanie DiCapua Getman develops and executes Arnold Ventures' digital communications strategy with a focus on multimedia storytelling and audience engagement and oversees daily editorial operations and design.
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