Election Day 2018: A Win for Human Rights

by Pam Zuber

a voter registration table
Voter Registration. Source: Wikicommons.

“That’s how we can end this dangerous cycle — by making sure that every single person we know makes their voice heard, in this election and in every election. Because when we all vote, we all do better.” –Michelle Obama, Shondaland, 2018

On November 6, 2018, we did do better in many areas. That’s because it was the day of the midterm election, a day that featured elections in several U.S. states. Voters in many of these states voted for proposals and candidates that promoted human rights and represented advancement. A few of the highlights:

Florida

Voters in the Sunshine State approved Proposal 4, a measure that will restore voting privileges to people who have completed serving their sentences for felonies that don’t include murders or felonious sexual assault. This measure is expected to restore the voting rights of more than one million Floridians. A significant number of these Florida residents are minorities. According to Vox, “In 2016, more than 418,000 black people out of a black voting-age population of more than 2.3 million, or 17.9 percent of potential black voters in Florida, had finished sentences but couldn’t vote due to a felony record.” Florida’s Proposal 4 thus will enfranchise people and create a voting pool that more accurately reflects the population of the state. Such voters might elect candidates and approve measures that resemble their lives and their desires, which could make the state more of representational democracy.

Colorado 

Did you know that slavery is a punishment that is still legal in federal prisons? Slavery as a punishment is also legal in the constitutions of many U.S. states. But, this won’t be the case in Colorado. On November 6, 2018, voters in that state approved Amendment A, a proposal that would include language that bans slavery in its state constitution, two years after a similar proposal failed in the state. While banning all slavery for all reasons on both the state and the federal levels would obviously be a more humane and empowering decision, banning language that forbids slavery is a good first step. A small step, to be sure, but still a step in the right direction.

New York

Midterm elections in other states featured candidates who are sympathetic to human rights. New York voters elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the U.S. House of Representatives. Ocasio-Cortez is a woman of Puerto Rican descent and a self-described socialist whose platform endorsed criminal justice and immigration reform, expanded Medicare health coverage, gun control, LGBTIA+ and women’s rights, the promotion of peace, and support for senior citizens and Puerto Rico. Ocasio-Cortez stunned her home state and the nation when she defeated longtime Congressional representative Joe Crowley in the New York Democratic primary in June 2018. The representative’s political views thus place her in the company of fellow progressives such as independent senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. This means it also places her in opposition to U.S. president Donald Trump. The 2018 midterm election gave Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow Democrats a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. The U.S. Senate, meanwhile, retained a Republican majority, and the presidential administration is also Republican. Will these different political perspectives lead to bipartisanship? Conflict? How will they affect the politics and governance of the country?

Arizona

Arizona’s race for U.S. Senate may have been as interesting as its ultimate results. That’s because the race featured two women running for a Senate seat. Even though the results of the 2018 election means that a record number of women will serve as U.S. senators, this still means that twenty-four women will be U.S. senators. That makes the U.S. Senate 24% women. The population of the entire United States is 50.8% female, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Women, then, are still underrepresented in the U.S. Senate compared to their overall totals in the general population. Since Arizona’s race featured two female candidates, it represented a more inclusive sort of political race, one that a female was bound to win, no matter what. And the race? It pitted Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Krysten Sinema. McSally also served as the first woman to fly in combat for the U.S. Air Force. Sinema won, receiving approximately 50% of the vote to McNally’s approximately 47.6%.

Georgia

Another new Congressperson, Lucia “Lucy” McBath of Georgia, has supported LGBTIA+ and women’s rights, immigrants, and the Affordable Care Act. Another focus of her work, gun safety, is sadly personal. That’s because, in 2012, a man shot and killed McBath’s unarmed seventeen-year-old son, Jordan Davis, arguing that the teen was playing music too loudly. The first trial for the crime ended in a mistrial in February 2014 after juror disagreements. After a second trial later that year, Davis’s murderer, Michael Dunn, was convicted and received a sentence of life imprisonment with no chance of parole. Her son’s death and further tragedies such as a 2018 mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school led McBath to become what she calls a reluctant activist and prompted her to run for office. McBath supports a host of gun safety measures, such as raising the age requirement to purchase firearms and banning weapon access for people convicted of domestic abuse.

Michigan

Women swept the top executive seats in the state of Michigan. Voters elected Gretchen Whitmer as governor, Dana Nessel as the attorney general, and Jocelyn Benson as the secretary of state. Openly gay Nessel also gained fame as the attorney in the case that legalized gay marriage and adoption in Michigan and helped pave the way for marriage equality in the nation. Whitmer, Nessel, and Benson joined Debbie Stabenow, who held her position as one of Michigan’s U.S. senators. They also join newly elected Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan attorney and civil rights advocate who was one of the first two Muslim women elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (newly elected Ilhan Omar of Minnesota was the other). Michigan voters also approved proposals that could impact state politics in the future. Proposal 2 was a measure that will establish a board of political party members and independent voters that will create legislative maps. This measure hopes to fight gerrymandering, the practice of creating maps to produce voter patterns that are favorable to specific political parties. Another voter-approved measure, Proposal 3, aims to make voting easier and fairer by making absentee ballots more available, automatically registering voters at state government offices, and enacting other measures.

a screenshot of 116th House of Representatives
More women in Congress. Source: FolsomNatural, Creative Commons

Voters chose more diversity

Many other states elected women. In fact, so many women won their races that there will be a record number of women in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Two of these women are New Mexico’s Deb Haaland and Kansas’s Sharice Davids, who became the first female Native American members of the House of Representatives. Haaland, in fact, is a thirty-fifth generation New Mexican. 

This surge of female power isn’t just confined to the legislative and executive branches. Nineteen black women campaigned to become judges in Harris County, Texas in 2018. All nineteen will serve as judges. Their campaigns have been dubbed Black Girl Magic and are emblematic of the growing power of African American women in political affairs. Observers hope that the Harris County judges will bring their diverse experiences to represent and work with the people of their area.

Speaking of diverse life experiences, U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota is a woman, a Muslim, and a refugee from Somalia. She wears hijabs, headscarves that some Muslim women wear, which has prompted members of the U.S. Congress to reconsider the legislative body’s ban on head coverings. Her experience as an immigrant could be crucial in shaping or fighting legislation relating to immigration and asylum in the coming years.

More members of the LGBTIA+ community are also running for and holding office. U.S. congressperson Sharice Davids and Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel are lesbians, and Colorado’s Jared Polis became the first openly gay man elected governor of a U.S. state. Previously, he was the first openly gay man elected to the U.S. Congress. And, although Christine Hallquist did not become Vermont’s governor, she did make history as “the first openly transgender gubernatorial candidate in the nation’s history,” according to Politico.

This is not to say that the results of the 2018 midterm election entirely supported inclusion and human rights. Alabama and West Virginia both approved measures that restrict abortions. Mississippi voters elected a senator, Cindy Hyde-Smith, who said she’d attend a public hanging in her enthusiasm for a supporter. Since Hyde-Smith’s competitor was an African American man, the senator-elect’s comments recalled the horror and ugliness of racially motivated lynchings in Mississippi and elsewhere in the nation.

But, even despite these developments, the election elected candidates from many different backgrounds with many different experiences and perspectives. It supported measures that aim to make life more inclusive for more U.S. residents. It approved candidates and measures that represent voters, acknowledge them, and give them agency. Michelle Obama was right. People who vote are broadcasting their voices. They’re working to help make life better for themselves, their fellow citizens, and future generations.

 

About the author: Pamela Zuber is a writer and editor who has written about a wide variety of topics, including physical and mental health, addiction, human rights, and gender.

The Unprecedented 2016 Presidential Election Event Recap

Photo of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in front of American flag
Trump vs. Clinton. Source: Galya Gubchenko. Creative Commons.

On Thursday, November 9, one year after the 2016 presidential election, the UAB Institute for Human Rights co-sponsored the event, “The Unprecedented 2016 Presidential Election,” at the Edge of Chaos located in UAB’s Lister Hill Library. Other sponsors of the event were UAB’s Department of Government and the Edge of Chaos.

The event featured special guest, Dr. Rachel Bitecofer, the Assistant Director of the Wason Center for Public Policy, a professor at Christopher Newport University, and an academic pollster. The event was on her new book, which has the same title: The Unprecedented 2016 Presidential Election.

Large amounts of data are presented in Bitecofer’s book. She states it “brings an empirical, political science approach that answers the question of why Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election, and it focuses on the strategical elements that campaigns are going through because the public is not really aware of what they see in campaign politics.”

 

Dr. Rachel Bitecofer standing in the Edge of Chaos at UAB
Dr. Rachel Bitecofer kicking off her lecture. Source: Dr. Tina Kempin Reuter

Bitecofer began by announcing that her approach to looking at the election results is holistic and systematic, and argues that the entire campaign was framed by an electoral strategy, meaning that there were two problems the candidates faced: reaching out to moderates and independents to vote one way rather than the other and then to get the partisan voters to show up. “If they show up, they’re a guaranteed voted,” Bitecofer said, “but that is a big if.”

The lecture was broken down into chapters. The first was titled: “Pitchforks and Torches.” This was when Bitecofer “put the 2016 election into context,” and looked at the patterns that put Donald Trump in the White House. She examined patriarchal behaviors that were prevalent in the 1950s and 60s that still persist today. She examined the effect of the media’s influence and how the US entered an era of polarization; the media has opened “partisan vacuums,” which are areas where it is possible to only get news from a partisan source like Breitbart or HuffPost.

In the next chapter of the lecture, “Making of the Media Event,” Bitecofer showed how Trump dominated the media until snagging the GOP nomination. Bitecofer’s research was presented with graphs that showed how Trump’s popularity in the news peaked when he did things like “picking a fight with the Pope on Twitter,” or “saying he wanted to ban all Muslims from the country.” Bitecofer then showed that even while Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were battling it out for the Democrat Nomination, the news continued to focus more on Donald Trump. She said that this came from Donald Trump’s knowledge of “how to capitalize on both his celebrity and the media’s thirst for scandal.” The Trump campaign ran a base-centered campaign. They appealed to the base voters, a voter who votes for the party rather than the candidate, rather than the establishment.

Bitecofer debunked the myth that “if the Clinton campaign had done ‘x, y, or z’ they would have been more successful,” by saying that, using the metrics one usually does to measure campaign success, they ran an almost perfect campaign. The Clinton campaigned out-fundraised the Trump campaign and the Clinton campaigned got the SuperPACs, which is unusual for a Democrat’s campaign. Despite the almost perfect campaign, there were mistakes. The Clinton campaign made the mistake of hiding the fact that Hillary had pneumonia, and during the debate when she was sick, she made the claim about “deplorables.” Bitecofer said this was a mistake as Clinton has always had so much control over her emotions and demeanor that this came as a shock to many people because “she let that control down.”

Continuing the observation of the media, Bitecofer presented the evidence of news sources’ endorsements of Hillary Clinton. All but two major news sources endorsed Clinton, which was unlike any election in history. Usually, according to Bitecofer, there are sources that only endorse Democrats, and some that only endorse Republicans. Some who never endorsed a Democrat before endorsed Clinton. Not only was this strange but, “not even sitting Republicans endorsed Donald Trump until after the Iowa caucus. No one in the party wanted him,” Bitecofer asserted.

Third-party voting, referred to as “defecting” in presidential elections, was a large issue in this election; defection rates were higher than any in modern history – higher than the 2000 elections. “In Wisconsin, for example, a state that Clinton lost by 1%, the defection rate for third party candidates is normally about 1.5%. [It was] 6.32% in 2016,” Bitecofer found. “The problem is that all of the defectors who wrote in Bernie Sanders’ name or voted for Jill Stein because they just could not bear to vote for Hillary Clinton, cost her the election. I am not saying it is their fault, but I am saying that the campaign that they ran did nothing to prevent it.” She also found that defection only mattered in Hillary versus Bernie. There was almost no defection from Republicans to a third-party candidate. “Democrats fall in love; Republicans fall in line.”

Bitecofer then told of an experiment that she conducted. She went to the adamant Bernie supporters and asked, “What if instead of Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton brought on Elizabeth Warren as her Vice President candidate? Would you have voted for her then?” This tactic suggested Hillary empowered the more progressive Democrats and attempted to bring in those who were in the #BernieorBust movement. About half of them said it would have made them more likely to vote for Clinton. From this experiment, Bitecofer concluded that had the Clinton campaign ran a base-focused campaign like the Republicans had, “we would likely have the first female president sitting in office now.”

Ultimately, it was concluded that “Clinton ran the perfect strategy for the wrong electoral campaign in an extremely polarized era. In such an era, it is all about firing up your base; you better give them candidates that get them ‘up’!”

The UAB Institute for Human Rights is proud to have such knowledgeable lecturers for our events and programs. For a list of our upcoming events, please visit our events page.