As much of America experiences a range of emotions anxiously waiting for every presidential vote to be counted, there seems to be a growing sense of satisfaction from civil rights advocates as final results in certain statewide elections have provided somewhat of a silver lining to the national political fray.
The race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump to secure 270 electoral college votes has dominated the news cycle amid an election whose results have been delayed in part because of a record number of absentee ballots cast during a pandemic. But other items on various ballots across the country were decided in no uncertain terms, prompting civil rights groups to rejoice over the bright spots in an otherwise stormy political forecast.
Criminal justice reform advocates were delivered several key victories, including the election loss for a Georgia district attorney who investigated Ahmaud Arbery‘s killing earlier this year. Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson — who recused herself from the case of racist vigilantism after it was discovered her office worked with one of the three jailed white men charged with playing separate murderous roles in the killing the Black jogger racially profiled, chased down, trapped and shot dead in the middle of a road in February — came up short against Keith Higgins, an independent candidate who qualified for the race at the last minute. Prior to Higgins’ candidacy, Johnson, a Republican, was running unopposed.
Voting rights advocates saw their hard work pay off in California when the state’s voters approved a measure to allow parolees cast ballots in elections. In addition to restoring the right to vote for people on parole, Proposition 17 also lets parolees run for public office. The measure means that an estimated 50,000 people will be able to participate in the democratic process.
“Let’s not overlook the huge win in California tonight for voting rights,” Color of Change President Rashad Robinson accurately tweeted Tuesday night while most eyes were watching presidential election results tricking in.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, Californians on parole and in state prison had their voting rights revoked. The Los Angeles Times reported that Proposition 17 earned 59 percent of the statewide vote.
In Mississippi, voters passed a measure to end an electoral system that originated in the Jim Crow era and was designed “to dilute the Black vote and ensure white voters would be able to choose governors and other statewide officials,” the Mississippi Free Press reported. The electoral-college style system was created in 1890 as an amendment to the state constitution because the state’s “constitutional convention was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the nigger from politics—not the ignorant, but the nigger,” Mississippi House Rep. James K. Vardaman — a white supremacist — said at the time.
Trump may have won the state, but election advocates won the right for the state to move to a more conventional system based on the popular vote. In another win for human decency, Mississippi voters also approved a new state flag design that will eliminate its existing Confederate theme.
Lastly, marijuana advocates declared cannabis as the real winner of Tuesday’s elections as voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota moved to legalize the plant in some way, shape or form. The move is a significant step in addressing the racial disparities in the criminal justice system as Black and brown people remain disproportionately suffering the brunt of related arrests.
After Tuesday’s election, there are now 15 states that have either enacted or voted to enact adult-use marijuana legalization laws. Thirty-six states have either enacted or have voted to enact medical marijuana access laws, too.
Erik Altieri, the executive director of NORML, said the federal government needs to listen to what voters are saying about marijuana.
“The public has spoken loudly and clearly. They favor ending the failed policies of marijuana prohibition and replacing it with a policy of legalization, regulation, taxation, and public education,” Altieri said in an emailed statement. “Elected officials — at both the state and federal level — ought to be listening.”