By Melissa Goodman
With many of us doom-scrolling about democracy and the smooth transition of power, it’s easy to miss the local and state progress voters willed to life in California. With about 96% of votes now tallied, here are our five takeaways from this historic eleciton and how the results stacked up with our ballot guide:
California showed up hard for criminal legal system reform.
- Measure J: Voters overwhelmingly (57%) supported this Los Angeles County measure that permanently allocates at least 10% of locally-controlled revenues for direct community investments in community health, housing, and jobs and alternatives to incarceration. The funds cannot be spent on police, jails, or law enforcement agencies. This historic win — led by Black and Latinx directly-impacted leaders and families — was built on a decade of work to move the county to a care-first, jails-last approach spearheaded by groups like JusticeLA. This victory is a significant step forward in bringing to life the recommendations of the Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group, of which the ACLU SoCal is a member.
- New district attorney in L.A. County: For the first time in more than 20 years, voters in L.A. County chose to unseat an incumbent DA, signaling a drive for meaningful change. High down-ballot voting for DA showed that multi-year efforts by a strong coalition of groups (including Black Lives Matter-LA and the ACLU SoCal) to educate voters on the vast powers of the DA office really paid off.
- Proposition 20: Voters overwhelmingly throughout the state (61%) rejected this proposition that would have made a number of criminal laws stricter, dramatically increasing the number of people incarcerated in prisons and jails, and rolling back years of legislative and ballot reforms that reduced incarceration in California. It was a resounding rejection of the criminalization and oppression of Black and brown communities in California.
- Proposition 17: By a large margin (57%), voters supported this proposition that gave people back the right to vote after completing prison terms. It will allow 50,000 more people to vote in California and showed that voters believe in second changes and not in stripping people of this fundamental right. It also showed the power of coalition efforts led by system-impacted people and fueled by winning messages such as #DemocracyNeedsEveryone.
- Proposition 25: Voters strongly rejected (56%) this proposition that would have replaced the cash bail system with assessment tools that were not only racially and socio-economically biased, but would have also resulted in massively increased funding for law enforcement agencies. The ACLU SoCal will work with community partners to end cash bail the right way and continue to stop the criminalization of poverty.
Organized wealthy interests won a number of fights but change is possible and close at hand if we keep building and working for economic justice, well-funded schools, and housing for all.
- Proposition 15: By a relatively slim margin (52%), voters rejected the first attempt in over 40 years to close commercial property tax loopholes that could have provided essential funds for schools, community services, and community infrastructure. While wealthy interest groups prevailed by deceiving voters into believing Prop 15 would increase their personal property taxes, our narrow defeat defied pundits’ expectations and holds great promise for the future. We are confident that the organizing and base building that happened during this campaign engaged voters and created future voters — such as members of our ACLU SoCal Youth Liberty Squad — who will lead us to wins in campaigns to come.
- Proposition 21: Voters rejected (60%) this attempt to make it easier for cities to enact rent control policies, even though affordable housing and addressing homelessness consistently polled as top of mind for California voters. But this will not stop our momentum continuing to fighting for housing justice, including critical statewide and local efforts to move to a housing first model that prioritizes expansion of safe, affordable, and permanent housing for all and ending overreliance on unregulated, often dangerous band-aids like emergency shelters and criminalization of poverty.
- Proposition 22: Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash bought their way out of labor protections, spending more than $200 million dollars — by far the most money ever spent on a statewide ballot measure — to support this proposition that allowed them to evade classifying their workers as employees entitled to benefits and various protections.
We still have lots more work to get voters to address structural racism and sexism.
- Proposition 16: Voters rejected (57%) reinstating the ability to consider race and gender in government hiring, contracting, and education. If passed, it would have reversed the 24-year-old ban on affirmative action in California. But in the future, with more time to show how overcoming the ban is necessary to fix structural racism and sexism, the supporters of the pro-Prop 16 campaign — including an already strong coalition of elected officials, labor, social justice groups, students, artists, activists, and the business community — will win this crucial fight.
Civic engagement was fueled by our successful efforts to make it easier to vote.
- Universal vote by mail access helped turnout. We and partners worked hard this year to make voting easier and more accessible than ever, and we saw that translate into more people voting.
- Planning ahead for election day problems helped avoid them. Voting rights advocacy from the ACLU SoCal and others prepared for this election, anticipating problems and working with county voting officials get the word out about how to cast ballots during these challenging times. The ACLU team in California was poised and ready during voting days to address problems such as long lines and voter intimidation, and played a role in problem-solving and making things run smoothly.
- Low propensity voters went to the polls. We and other groups worked to engage voters who don’t often vote, and it paid off. In the ACLU SoCal program alone, more than 700 people who normally sit out elections pledged to turn out.
- ACLU SoCal volunteers are awesome. We are humbled and awed by the droves of volunteers who helped drive our election GOTV efforts, and our campaign to spread awareness of our ballot guide positions. We thank you.
There’s no rest for the weary: Now we need to turn our attention to accountability, organizing, and base building, especially outside of L.A. and urban centers.
- The election results provide momentum for the vital work ahead to reimagine public safety and transform our approaches to incarceration and policing. Our strong criminal justice wins, especially Measure J, are fanning the winds of change in communities across our region, such as campaigns to stop jail expansion (like StoptheMusick in OC) and local and county People’s Budget campaigns, pioneered by Black Lives Matter to support community services funding and alternative approaches to criminalization and incarceration.
- Now is the time for real accountability efforts, particularly to hold elected officials to their promises of criminal legal system and economic justice reforms. The people we elect work for us, and we have our work cut out for us to keep up consistent pressure on them. For example, we must ensure that District Attorney-Elect George Gascón makes promise for substantial change real. And we’ve still got much work to do to rein in, create more checks and balances, and hold accountable the abuses of power of the current L.A. County sheriff and all of the powerful law enforcement officials and institutions in our region. We will keep watching and mobilizing to make sure our state legislators act as champions for civil liberties and social justice when they vote on state bills. And we’ll ensure elected officials work to advance community needs rather than those of organized special interests.
It’s a challenging but exciting time. And if there’s only one critical takeaway from this election season (and the past four years), it’s that our democracy only thrives when we remain vigilant and engaged.
Melissa Goodman is Director of Advocacy/Legal Director, Advocacy for ACLU of Southern California
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