You might not know it from the sleepy diagonal avenues of Washington, DC, but today is election day in several places around the country. Here are the battles to watch:
At last, the famous “Personhood Amendment” comes to a vote. To recap: If the amendment gets a simple majority by voter referendum, the Mississippi state constitution is amended to define personhood at the moment of fertilization. Personhood would jeopardize the legal status of female birth control methods, make in vitro fertilization practically impossible, and potentially set up a Supreme Court showdown on the legal status of abortion. How it would affect the population count, and thus Mississippi’s congressional delegation, is a question almost too absurd to reckon with. Polling is neck-and-neck right now.
Also on the ballot is a strict voter ID law, which would become the eighth of its kind to be adopted if passed by referendum. Like all other such voter ID laws, it’s pushed by Republicans with the stated intent of reducing allegedly widespread voter fraud, but is actually a thinly veiled strategy to block core Democratic constituencies (young people, black people) from voting.
Political swamis have deemed Republican Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant a lock, but it’s worth noting that his Democratic opponent, Hattiesburg mayor Johnny DuPree, is the first black gubernatorial candidate in Mississippi since the Reconstruction Era.
Wake County, North Carolina School Board
In 2009, backed by multi-millionaire GOP kingmaker Art Pope, Tea Party candidates swept the Wake County school board and overturned a decade-old integrationist policy that involved busing low-income students to good public schools. This fall, Democrats have already regained four seats, and need one more to take back the board. In the past, NPR reports, a WCSB candidate might spend about $10,000 per election. This year, the race for five school board seats has brought in over $500,000, almost entirely from outside advocacy groups. Today’s runoff election between Democratic challenger Kevin Hill and Republican Heather Losurdo will determine not only whether America’s 18th largest county can return to progressive education policy, but whether Democratic cash can compete with the Pope machine in North Carolina in 2012.
Ohio’s controversial anti-union law that curbs collective bargaining rights for teachers, firefighters, police officers, and health care workers is headed for repeal. Despite a last minute flurry of cash from Koch and co., a “no” vote to repeal SB 5 by referendum is polling at about 59 percent to 36 percent. Though the campaign has boosted Senator Sherrod Brown’s appeal and delivered a blow to Governor John Kasich, President Obama’s numbers remain stagnant in the Buckeye State.
The Individual Mandate
Ohio’s other big voter referendum fight has garnered far less attention. But a “Yes on #3,” which states that “no federal, state, or local law or rule shall compel, directly or indirectly, any person, employer, or health care provider to participate in a health care system,” would seek to block the implementation of the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. The measure appears likely to pass by about 15 percentage points, but like Mississippi’s Personhood amendment, it wouldn’t accomplish what it purports to: Obamacare would remain protected by the U.S. Constitution's supremacy clause. Still, it’s not totally harmless. As Mother Jones reports, it could block any new laws granting workers’ compensation for workplace injuries, ban school-sponsored immunization for low-income children, and prevent the state from collecting data on infectious diseases.
Incumbent Democrat Steve Beshear appears headed for a big victory, largely thanks to a lackluster campaign by State Senate President David Williams. While not exactly a surprise—KY Dems have lost only two gubernatorial elections in the last 50 years—it’s a big win for an incumbent in a state that’s experiencing high unemployment and severe budget cutbacks. Assuming Bryant wins in Mississippi, a Beshear win splits this year’s gubernatorial races: Conservative Democratic wins in Kentucky and West Virginia and Republican wins in Mississippi and Louisiana.
Run-off Election for State Senate
In what may appear to outsiders as more of a symbolic election than anything else, Arizona State Senate president and author of the infamous SB 1070 immigration law Russell Pearce faces a recall challenge from fellow Republican Jerry Lewis. The recall effort, pushed by a group that advocates for more “civility and decency” has in part become a referendum on the immigration law, which Lewis says he wouldn’t have voted for. Lewis leads by about three points, according to a recent poll.