Control of Congress is now split between Democrats and Republicans, but one clear winner emerged from last week’s elections: voting.
Voting rights and electoral issues were on the ballot in 13 states, and in almost all of them, voters overwhelmingly supported initiatives that expand access to the ballot box and make the right to vote easier to exercise.
In Colorado, Michigan, and Missouri, ballot initiatives aimed at replacing gerrymandering — the redrawing of legislative districts by political incumbents to strengthen their party’s electoral representation — with nonpartisan methods of redistricting all received more than 60% of the vote. Colorado’s proposal to allow independent commissions to handle redistricting garnered over 70%.
Marylanders turned out in favor of same-day voter registration. Nevadans ushered in “motor voter” automatic registration for those who visit the Department of Motor Vehicles. Floridians, meanwhile, restored the right to vote for 1.4 million released felons (excluding those convicted of murder or sex crimes).
Perhaps the most significant victory for voting rights came in Michigan, where two-thirds of voters adopted Proposal 3. Among other provisions, the new law guarantees same-day voter registration, automatic registration at the DMV, and no-excuse absentee voting. Voting has never been easier in one America’s most important swing states.
This bodes well for the millions of Americans who have expressed a newfound interest in democratic participation in recent years. While the exact figures remain unknown, early signs point to a surge in voter turnout this election cycle. According to the New York Times, an estimated 114 million ballots were cast on Election Day — up from 83 million votes in 2014 and 91 million in 2010. Emboldened by the issues at stake in the midterms, roughly 36 million Americans turned out early — many of them young voters who traditionally stay home.
As voter enthusiasm hovers around all-time highs, the protection of voting rights and expansion of voter access have become more important than ever. Fortunately, the resounding success of pro-voter ballot initiatives on Election Day provides a model for future reforms: Take the question to the people. If state legislators refuse to address voter suppression out of partisan self-interest, voters have now shown that they can make voting easier on their own. Ballot initiatives have emerged as a viable alternative to legislative reform.
And there is more work to be done. While voters in many states backed pro-voter ballot initiatives this election cycle, North Carolina and North Dakota turned back the clock. Both states imposed new voting requirements that do little more than complicate the voting process, jeopardizing voter turnout in future elections.
Indeed, Georgia’s gubernatorial race reminded us that voter suppression continues to undermine our elections, disproportionately affecting minority voters from low-income communities. Thousands of voter registrations were put on hold leading up to Election Day — nearly 70% of them belonging to African American voters. Elected officials also conducted mass purges of voter rolls, purportedly to remove deceased and lapsed voters but with potentially grave consequences for active voters.
In 2018, there is simply no excuse for voter disenfranchisement. Over the last two centuries, our franchise was hard-won. We fought a revolution for self-determination and the right to vote. During the Civil War and the civil rights struggle that followed, Americans died fighting to expand our franchise. That legacy must live on today, as we fight to protect voting rights and expand voter access for the elections of tomorrow.
Next year’s “off-year” elections must be an “on-year” for voting. Building on 2018, Americans need to bring forward even more pro-voter ballot initiatives, and use our votes to turn them into state laws. We must also support the political candidates — Democrat or Republican — who embrace voter enfranchisement, and condemn voter suppression for the undemocratic practice it is.
As Election Day proved, the American people want voting rights protected, voter access expanded, and voter suppression eradicated. According to a recent Public Religion Research Institute survey, roughly 70% of Americans believe it should be easier to vote, not harder. In states like Florida and Michigan, public support for pro-voter ballot initiatives outpaced the support for any one political candidate or party.
Democrats and Republicans must learn that lesson, and embrace pro-voter reforms to win: win elections, and win the trust of their constituents. The fight for American democracy goes on. Let’s reward those who join us in the trenches.
Campbell Streator serves as program director at Every Vote Counts, a student-led, nonpartisan organization dedicated to increasing voter turnout and expanding voter access.
Harold Ekeh is the president of Every Vote Counts’ Yale University chapter.