December 17, 2023

Every Vote Counts

Every Vote Counts: Don’t Rely on the Luck of the Draw

In December, the election results that trickle in always underscore the power of a single vote. Sometimes, these races capture the attention of the nation, as was the case in 2017, when the partisan control of the legislature in Virginia hinged on a single race that was tied. (Democrats lost the coin flip, delaying the Medicaid expansion for hundreds of thousands of Virginians.) Other times, they go unnoticed. But the stakes of local races are no less serious.

In Towamencin Township, Pennsylvania, located in the “key of the Keystone State” for Democrats (Montco), the Republican supervisors planned to ignore the home rule charter adopted by voters last year and privatize the township’s sewage infrastructure. Democrat Kofi Osei, an actuary and democratic socialist, ran the numbers and realized the math of entrusting lifesaving infrastructure to a for-profit company does not add up. So he jumped in the race and challenged the incumbent supervisor…and tied, leading to a draw to break the tie, which he won.

Osei, a Ghanan immigrant, told the local media, "My dad’s overseas right now and I kept telling him to get an overseas ballot but he said it doesn’t matter because I’m going to win. So I’m glad he had the trust.” The trust is nice, but things would have certainly been less stressful for Osei’s campaign had his father simply gone to!

Racial Justice, Abortion Access, and Climate Justice in the Bayou State

Democrat Henry Whitehorn won the election—and recount—for sheriff in Caddo Parish (Shreveport), LA, by just one vote. The importance of this race for racial justice is easy to see: A Black man will replace a sheriff infamous for making comments in favor of modern slavery. Republicans won an appeals court ruling calling for a new election; the case is expected to head to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

In the context of the Bayou State’s cruel abortion ban, every fight is about abortion access… even fights about environmental justice and clean drinking water. 

Further southeast in Louisiana, amidst Cancer Alley and the lingering post-Katrina deficit of climate resilience infrastructure, a saltwater intrusion up the Mississippi River threatened New Orleans’s water supply. Louisiana’s Republican Attorney General and Governor-Elect Jeff Landry ”personally solicited the Louisiana State Bond Commission last year to withhold millions in funding from the New Orleans Sewage and Water Board due to the city government’s refusal to arrest and prosecute women in the wake of Louisiana’s total ban on abortion.”

As the climate crisis accelerates, climate risks such as encroaching seawater will increasingly threaten our world’s most vulnerable communities. The Biden administration reacted swiftly to this situation by declaring an emergency and distributing clean water. The action reflects POTUS’ long-term approach: Biden seeks to boost public investment and direct funds where they are most needed, with a whole-of-government Justice40 initiative that targets 40% of climate and infrastructure spending for drinking water and sewage systems that have been underinvested in for decades, to communities most affected by environmental injustice. With state capacity still withered in the wake of the long Reagan era, making smart investments in resilience and in rectifying injustices is challenging, but it is easier when we vote in local elections and stand up to reactionary tyrants who find creative ways to misappropriate resources and terrorize women.

Every Election Is a Climate and Reproductive Freedom Election, Full Stop

While Ohio voters showed up in force last month to restore reproductive rights, the effects of the bans are still being felt. Issue 1 protects miscarriage care, but before voters went to the polls, Brittany Watts went to the hospital twice to receive miscarriage care but was denied treatment due to Ohio’s abortion ban. She is now facing trial after her home miscarriage. The local Republican prosecutor believes terrorizing someone for her prematurely ruptured membranes (technically “abuse of corpse”) is the best use of public resources.

After Republicans tried to keep voters from having a say on Issue 1, it turns out Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, now running for Sherrod Brown’s US Senate seat, tried to rig the election by inviting an anti-choice group to coauthor the supposedly neutral summary for the ballot. The Ohio Capital Journal writes: ”Ohio’s top elections official invited opponents to write ballot language that mischaracterized an abortion-rights amendment that supporters gathered a half-million registered voters’ signatures to put on that ballot.” The summary was longer than the measure it purported to summarize (and which was not printed on the ballot) and full of false statements and classic anti-choice propaganda (including replacing the medically accurate word “fetus” with “unborn child”). 

Voters saw through these attempts to manipulate them, so now Republicans are considering creative new ways to nullify voters’ will, pushing the courts to ignore the new constitutional amendment and allow local prosecutors to terrorize patients and doctors.

Attacks on our democracy happen daily. Most are much quieter than January 6th, but they happen everywhere, in all our public buildings, including public utility commissions, courtrooms, transportation departments, sheriff’s departments, city councils, and state legislatures. 

There's a common thread of anti-democratic actions that reflect a Republican desire to enact and enforce unpopular abortion bans and make consumers pay more for dirty energy. SCOTUS' Dobbs decision (which overturned Roe v. Wade) was enacted by judges largely appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote (and who participate in a matchmaking service with billionaires). A long series of decisions such as the landmark partisan gerrymandering case Rucho v. Common Cause allowed state legislatures to insulate their power from democratic forces.

It is no surprise that Michigan’s new Democratic trifecta acted swiftly to accelerate the clean energy transition, protect reproductive freedom, and ensure their new voting rights expansion reaches everyone automatically, including citizens returning from prison.