You probably heard that Tuesday night’s election results represented a big win for Democrats. But from the south to the Pacific Northwest, they were also a major victory for democracy reform.
Let’s run down the list…
• Ralph Northam’s resounding win over Ed Gillespie in the governor’s race was a triumph for voting rights. Northam (pictured), a Democrat, has said he’ll continue outgoing governor Terry McAuliffe’s policy of re-enfranchising most ex-felons, while Gillespie, a Republican, promised to curtail it. That means tens or hundreds of thousands more Virginians now stand to get the franchise back as a result of Northam’s victory. Even better, Gillespie’s attempt to use the issue to attack Northam failed — more evidence that candidates who support expanding voting face little political downside. (Via the Huffington Post, here’s video of some of the newly enfranchised Virginians who voted yesterday speaking movingly about what it means to them.)
• Northam’s victory also struck a blow against gerrymandering. Democratic control of the governor’s mansion means state Republicans won’t be able to rig the next round of redistricting, which follows the 2020 Census, the way they did last time in 2011. Then, they had unified control of government, and used it to draw congressional and state legislative maps that were among the most skewed in the country. Case in point: Democratic House of Delegates candidates last night beat Republican candidates by 9.4 percent, yet control of the chamber still depends on the results of several recounts.
• The result in the governor’s race could even lead to reform of Virginia’s out-of-control campaign finance system, which allows wealthy and corporate donors to give as much money as they want to candidates. Northam pledged during the campaign to prioritize fighting big money, and said he wanted to ban corporate contributions. And he may have the support he needs in the legislature to do it: All 19 of the House of Delegates candidates who took the same pledge to fight big money as Northam won their races, producing a chamber that looks to be far more supportive of campaign finance reform.
• Democrat Phil Murphy’s easy win in the New Jersey governor’s race could smooth the path for an array of sorely needed voting reforms, after the state last year recorded its second lower turnout ever for a presidential race. Murphy supports automatic voter registration (AVR), same-day voter registration, online registration, and in-person early voting, none of which New Jersey currently allows. Chris Christie, the outgoing governor, has vetoed bills passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature that would have established AVR and online registration and expanded early voting.
• By winning a special election for a state Senate seat, Democrats gained full control of the state government. That’s good news for campaign finance reform: Republican Senate leaders had used a parliamentary procedure to stall a bill to stiffen disclosure laws. With Democrats now in charge, the measure’s prospects are revived.
• It also could allow Washington to become the next state to adopt AVR, which Oregon and California already use. Voting activists are planning a possible legislative push for the next session, and full Democratic should make things easier.
• It was a good night for the city’s innovative democracy vouchers program, in which voters are given four $25 vouchers to give to any candidate who pledges to accept only small donations. Candidates who used democracy vouchers won in every race where the vouchers were available for the first time, including two city council races and the race for city attorney. The apparent success of Seattle’s program so far means it’s likely to spread to other places.