Mostly, the elections on Tuesday seemed to confirm what we know from living in America today: We are a country divided. The results seem to bode…somehow for the 2020 presidential election. Of this, pundits and score keepers, are certain, though they are—no surprise—divided on what exactly it all means.
There is one thing that seemed to emerge more than ever after Tuesday: Local elections matter. They always do.
Here, six other electoral observations:
1. Huzzah! We can step back (slightly) from our great embarrassment. That is thanks to the record—record!—four women we’ll be sending to Congress in January, all from this region: Susan Wild, from Lehigh Valley; Madeleine Dean from Montgomery County; Mary Gay Scanlon from Delaware County and parts of South Philly; and Chrissy Houlahan in Chester County. They will be the first women to represent us since 2014, when Rep. Allyson Schwartz gave up her seat to run in the Democratic primary for governor. (She lost to Tom Wolf.)
More than 533,000 Philadelphians cast a ballot on Tuesday. Every one of you should pat yourself on the back (and shooting a little side-eye at those who didn’t vote is okay, too). Now let’s vow to do even better.
Get this: In all its years as a Commonwealth, Pennsylvania has only ever sent seven women to Congress, never more than two at a time. That is—let’s be clear—pathetic. We also have never had a woman as governor (though a few of those won elsewhere in America on Tuesday), or as a Senator, or as a Mayor of Philadelphia. So don’t go celebrating too much.
After Tuesday, we will be also sending a few more women to Harrisburg next year, including Chester County Democrat Melissa Shusterman, and Philadelphia’s Elizabeth Fiedler. As we’ve noted here before: That is much needed in a state where we rank 49th in the country—and behind Afghanistan—for our number of elected women. Meanwhile, sexual harassment goes unchecked in the Capitol—hello, almost former Delaware County Rep. Nick Miccarelli—and a raft of bills to protect women across the state have floundered in committee for nearly a year. Change will not happen the minute these women take the oath of office. But it is a step forward.
2. Tom Wolf won the most votes despite maybe not knowing who can vote. Last week, Wolf released a campaign ad in Philadelphia featuring rapper Meek Mill, his billionaire friend Michael Rubin (minority owner of the 76ers) and (briefly) comedian Kevin Hart.
It was seemingly intended to highlight the Governor’s stance on criminal justice reform (he’s for it). But it was an embarrassing note to end an otherwise pretty honorable campaign. Around the 35-second mark, there’s Meek Mill: “Me, myself, I never voted,” Mill says. “I’ve been on probation since I was 18, I don’t know if I was even able to vote. If I ever did cast a vote…my first vote will be you.” (The phrasing here leaves it unclear if Mill actually did cast a vote yesterday.)
In case you are not clear on this point (Gov. Wolf, I’m talking to you): Any Pennsylvanian who has served his or her sentence and been released from prison is able to vote. Anyone on probation or on parole in Pennsylvania can vote. The only citizens not eligible to vote are those currently incarcerated for a felony conviction. Confusion around this point has kept many—primarily African American men like Mill—from voting for years. Either Wolf doesn’t know this—which is a bit scary considering he’s the highest elected official in the state—or he didn’t care that he was perpetuating vote-suppressing confusion because he was so anxious to be associated with the newly civic-minded rapper. That is shameful.
3. Philadelphia cared to vote. No, 50 percent turnout among registered citizens is not a passing grade. Yes, it is a failure of our democracy that only half the city is interested in choosing who represents us, something we will continue to harp on. But it’s hard to not feel a little warm and fuzzy about those numbers, the highest in recent midterms. (In 2014, only 36 percent of us voted.) More than 533,000 Philadelphians cast a ballot on Tuesday—despite the rain. Every one of you should pat yourself on the back (and shooting a little side-eye at those who didn’t vote is okay, too). And now let’s vow to do even better next time around.
4. Other places care even more about voting. Ballot measures in several states will make voting easier and more available to hundreds of thousands of people across the country. In Florida, voters approved a change to allow those who have served time for crimes—besides sex offenses and homicide—to cast a ballot when they are released from prison, as they do in 47 other states, including Pennsylvania. (See above.) Voters in Michigan, Colorado, Missouri and Utah agreed to end political gerrymandering in those states. The value of this is evident here in Pennsylvania—where the state Supreme Court, not voters, put and end to political redistricting—and where new sensible districts allowed one voter on Tuesday to remark how nice it was to vote for a candidate who actually lived in the same county as him.
Either Wolf doesn’t know people on probation can vote, or he didn’t care that he was perpetuating vote-suppressing confusion because he was so anxious to be associated with the newly civic-minded Meek Mill. That is shameful.
Voters in Portland, Denver and Baltimore approved campaign finance reform aimed at evening the playing field between large and small donors. In Maryland voters favored same-day voter registration; in Nevada, automatic voter registration. And Michigan? They voted in favor of both those reforms, and also no-excuse absentee voting. As we have chronicled in The Citizen, all of these measures are ways to increase turnout—and are all things we should have here in Pennsylvania.
5. But sometimes voting lost. There was confusion, broken machines, people blocked from voting, gerrymandering, inappropriate behavior (even here, where one South Philly poll worker yelled at people to vote ‘No’ on the city’s ballot measure)—signs that our democracy is as flawed as our politics. North Carolinians approved a measure requiring a photo ID to vote—something that mostly hurts the poor, elderly, young people and people of color. And in North Dakota, for some reason, voters felt compelled to pass a measure saying that only U.S. citizens could vote. (Note: That is the law of the entire country.)
6. The environment got a needed boost. The Democrats winning the House means a likely end to the bizarre period in which climate change and science skeptics head the Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Instead, Democrats are likely to appoint Eddie Bernice Johnson—a woman and a registered nurse—to head the committee.
Many pro-earth measures failed. But there were some other successes, too: Voters approved millions of dollars worth of public transportation upgrades in Virginia, New Mexico and Florida; they voted to keep the gas tax in California, some portion of which also goes towards public transit; and Portland voters approved an only in the nation “clean energy tax initiative” agreeing to an additional levy on large companies in order to fund clean energy projects and job training, particularly in low income communities. These places are all far from Pennsylvania. For our part, we are sending an actual scientist—Chrissy Houlahan, an industrial engineer—to Congress.
7. Voting is fun. Just throwing that out there, because it’s true. Despite the agita that precedes and follows, pushing that little green button is like drinking a tall refreshing glass of America, with a little twist of hope.Header photo: Twitter via @HoulahanforPa