Yeah, yeah, yeah, another off-year election has voters picking Republicans over Democrats for a few elected offices. But get past personalities and party labels, and voters around the country, just like the voters in South Dakota, pick progressive policies more often than the pols they pick to make laws.
The pro-democracy Ballot Initiative Strategy Center summarizes results for ballot measures across the country that caught its attention. Out of 20 ballot measures on which BISC took a firm position for or against, local voters voted in that progressive direction 15 times:
- 53% of Minneapolis voters supported authorizing the city council to control rent.
- 53% of St. Paul voters supported capping rent increases at 3% a year.
- 61% of Detroit voters supported decriminalizing entheogenic (a very new word built from Greek roots meaning “making one feel filled with god” and meant to replace the negatively connoted terms hallucinogenic and psychedelic) plants and fungi, like peyote and magic mushrooms. (Some libertarians would contend that allowing people to fungally freak themselves out is entirely conservative; this liberal contends the only thing progressive about drugs is the progress the user makes toward brain fry and uselessness.)
- 80% of Detroit voters supported creating a city reparations committee to make “recommendations for housing and economic development programs that address historical discrimination against the Black community in Detroit.”
- 69% of New York State voters approved a constitutional right to “clean air and water and a healthful environment.”
- 61% of Maine voters declared that people have a “natural, inherent and unalienable right to food,” including the right “to save and exchange seeds and the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being.” (Take that, Kristi Noem, you insulting hypocrite!)
- 52% of Broomfield, Colorado, voters approved using ranked choice voting for mayoral and city council elections…
- …as did 73% of Ann Arbor, Michigan, voters…
- …and as did 63% of Westbrook, Maine, voters for city and school board offices. (Sorry, Scott.)
- 60% of Tucson voters approved raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.
- 57% of Colorado voters rejected a property tax cut for multifamily housing and lodging. (One could argue that such conservative tax policy would benefit low-income renters, if we could be sure that landlords would translate lower taxes into lower rents, but that’s not what the ballot measure mandated.)
- 54% of voters rejected raising their marijuana tax to pay for out-of-school educational services. (This liberal has no problem taxing the crap out of pot, but this liberal can also see the progressive logic of opponents who said any tax dollars for education should be used to improve education in schools first, not vouchers to send kids to private after-school education programs.)
- 70% of Albany, New York, supported giving its Community Police Review Board subpoena and independent investigative authority to check police misconduct.
- 59% of Cleveland voters approved creating a civilian review board to oversee police.
- 69% of Austin, Texas, voters rejected a measure establishing a minimum police:population ratio of 1:500, requiring additional police training, and giving cops bonuses for foreign language proficiency (wait, I like that!), mentoring cadets, and receiving awards for honorable conduct. Opponents said spending more on cops would shift city cash away from firefighters, paramedics, and librarians.
BISC lists five instances where voters went against BISC’s progressive recommendations:
- 56% of Minneapolis voters rejected restructuring its police department to focus on a “comprehensive public health approach” and drop a population-based police staffing quota.
- 58% of New York State voters rejected removing the requirement that voters register at least ten days before the election and allowing the Legislature to enact same-day voter registration.
- 56% of New York State voters rejected no-excuse absentee voting.
- 56% of New York State voters rejected a proposal to lower the vote threshold necessary for the New York Legislature to approve its redistricting commission’s maps; to count all residents, not just citizens, in redistricting; to count prisoners for redistricting where they lived prior to incarceration; to freeze the number of State Senate districts at 63; and to prohibit splitting census blocks in cities into different districts. (I’m not convinced this measure leans progressive, but BISC supported it.)
- 62% of Texas voters supported a constitutional amendment preventing the state or any political subdivision from prohibiting or limiting religious services, thus making it harder for local governments to enact sensible restrictions on gatherings that could endanger public health during a pandemic. (Putting religion above public health isn’t really conservative; it’s just pigheadedly theocratic and self-destructive.)
These results across the country help explain why Republicans across the country are trying to hamstring the ballot initiative process: ballot questions break voters away from partisan branding and gets them to engage in some modicum of critical thinking about policy… and the more voters think, the more they tend to vote for progressive policies.