Ballot measures on voting rights, redistricting reform, and campaign finance limits won big in 2018
In states and cities across the country, American voters resoundingly supported ballot measures to strengthen our democracy, voting last week to enact a slew of reforms on voting rights, redistricting, campaign finance, and even the structure of our electoral system itself. In an era when Republicans have enacted voting restrictions and historically extreme gerrymanders in state after state, and when even Democrats in some places have failed to do everything they can to protect the right to vote, these measures are a major advance for the cause of free and fair elections.
Chief among these are redistricting reform measures that easily passed in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah, which we have previously detailed in depth. The first two states created independent redistricting commissions, while Missouri voters opted to make it the first state in the country to impose a specific statistical test of partisan fairness on state legislative redistricting. Utah also created a bipartisan advisory commission that imposes nonpartisan criteria even if the legislature draws its own map.
Meanwhile, Florida, Michigan, and Nevada all led the way in expanding the right to vote, with Florida voters smashing a Jim Crow-era restriction to automatically restore voting rights to up to 1.4 million citizens who have served out their felony sentences, a group that is disproportionately black. At the same time, Nevada and Michigan became the 12th and 13th states to enact automatic voter registration (as shown in the map at the top of this post). Michigan’s measure also includes same-day registration, no-excuse absentee voting, and other reforms, turning Michigan from one of the worst states to one of the best states for voting access. Finally, Marylanders approved extending same-day registration to include Election Day itself. (It previously had been available only during the early-voting period.)
North Carolina voters also struck a critical blow in favor of fair elections by rejecting a deceptively worded constitutional amendment backed by the illegally gerrymandered Republican legislature that would have let it pack the state Supreme Court to overturn its Democratic majority. They also defeated a separate amendment that would have allowed Republicans to gridlock the state Board of Elections so Democrats couldn’t restore early-voting availability the GOP had cut. With the failure of these amendments, and with civil rights lawyer Anita Earls, a Democrat, winning a key seat on the state Supreme Court, North Carolina’s courts could soon strike down the GOP’s gerrymanders under the state constitution’s guarantees of the right to vote and free elections.