The Never-ending Election Day – The Wrap (11/6/20)

This week: Results from the 2020 elections.

Welcome to The Wrap! Each Friday, we’ll walk through some of the big news and policy headlines from the past week to catch you up on what it means.

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Now to the thing.

As of Friday evening, we’ve seen 9.7 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. Over 235,000 people have reportedly died.

COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the U.S. For three straight days, we’ve seen record numbers in daily cases reported, getting as high as 128,000 on Friday—and there’s no end in sight.

At the same time, a long-awaited Election Day capped off weeks of early voting. Results are still coming in at this time, but here’s what we know so far:

Races for the White House and Senate persist.

The race for the White House has still not been called, but at this time Joe Biden leads in four of the six remaining states with results pending. Biden’s path to the required 270 electoral votes is much less restrictive than President Donald Trump’s; if he wins any two of these states or just Pennsylvania (where he’s ahead), he wins.

In a reversal of the 2016 Election, Biden flipped Wisconsin and Michigan from red to blue while holding the states won by then-candidate Hillary Clinton. Thanks to herculean local grassroots efforts over the past several years, Biden is also competing in Georgia, which hasn’t voted for a Democrat since 1992. He’s also leading in Arizona, which is similarly a traditionally red state.

The way this race developed was expected, with most states implementing some form of mail-in voting and GOP lawsuits preventing some states from pre-canvassing (counting ballots before Election Day). This has not stopped Trump from claiming widespread voter fraud. (There’s no evidence of this.) While he is not alone in making these claims—House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy echoed them—there have been a few GOP lawmakers who pushed back on this (albeit softly).

Meanwhile, 35 seats in the U.S. Senate were contested this year. Democrats needed to win a net gain of four seats to gain control of the chamber (three if Joe Biden wins, as a Vice President Kamala Harris could break ties). At this time, they have a net gain of one seat—they flipped Arizona’s and Colorado’s seats but lost one in Alabama.

This election season included two open seats in Georgia, with both incumbents belonging to the GOP. One of these races will officially go into a runoff election in January, and the other is expected to do the same. We’re also still waiting for results in North Carolina and Alaska (both have Republican incumbents).

In the House, Democrats are likely keeping their majority but they have lost several seats. Word is that Democratic House leadership is torn over why this happened; much of the blame has been pushed onto more progressive rhetoric, but it’s also been pointed out that more outspokenly left House members fared better on Election Night. In any case, expect the moderate-vs.-left tensions to continue.

If Biden does indeed win, all eyes will shift to Georgia, where the two runoff elections could determine which party has the Senate majority.

So what does this mean for the future of U.S. policy?

If Democrats fail to gain control of both the White House and the legislature, this will almost surely prevent them from pursuing their most ambitious agenda items: health care reform and large-scale climate policy. It also complicates how Biden will fill his cabinet, as his nominations needs to be confirmed by the Senate. Indeed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said he will block Biden from appointing “radical progressives.”

This isn’t to say Biden will be utterly powerless—he could still make changes to regulations on emissions, tax loopholes, and refugee admissions, not to mention U.S. foreign policy.

But importantly, we just won’t really know what the next two-plus years of federal policy will look like until those Georgia races are decided. This also overlooks how Trump and Congress will act in the lame duck session if the President does lose his reelection bid. (Also, the pandemic will not just cease once the 2020 elections come to a close.)

Results from state and locals races:

It was a good night for incumbent governors, with all nine up for reelection winning their races. The open seat in Utah remained in Republican control; in Montana, the GOP flipped the governorship.

Despite high expectations for state legislatures to change hands, only two states saw any chambers flip: New Hampshire and Arizona. According to the New York Times, this makes 2020 the year with the fewest changes for state legislatures (paywall) since 1946. All told, 28 general assemblies are in Republican control, 20 are in Democratic control, and one (Minnesota) is split. (Nebraska’s unicameral legislature is nonpartisan.) Keep that in mind when states begin the redistricting next year. The National Conference of State Legislatures’ 2020 election results page has more details here.

State supreme courts did see some important developments:

  • In Illinois, voters decided not to retain a Democratic justice. Now with a 3-3 split, the race to replace him will determine the state court’s majority.
  • In Ohio, a Democratic candidate unseated a Republican justice. That slices the GOP majority on the court to 4-3.
  • In Michigan, a Democratic-nominated candidate beat a Republican-nominated opponent, switching the court’s GOP 4-3 majority to a Democratic one.

Ten states (Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia having incumbents; Indiana and Montana with open seats) had races for state attorney general. All incumbents are ahead in their races at this time; Republican candidates for open seats in Montana and Indiana are also leading.

Criminal justice policy, though frequently set at each level of government, is overwhelmingly implemented at the local level. With that in mind, here are some notable results from elections this week:

  • In Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the country, progressive challenger George Gascón defeated incumbent Jackie Lacey. In Travis County, Texas (includes Austin), former public defender and progressive candidate José Garza won the DA race. Meanwhile, defense attorney Monique Worrell was elected state’s attorney in Orange-Osceola County, Florida. Cook County’s (Illinois, includes Chicago) State’s Attorney Kim Foxx won her reelection. Foxx has served as a staunch criminal justice reform advocate, focusing on areas like bail reform and oversight of police use of force.
  • It was also a notable year in elections of sheriffs. In addition to a race in Fort Bend, Texas, here’s a much more succinct recap of some results:

(Here’s a particularly important take on the sheriff races in those Georgia counties and what they mean for Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) activity in the state.)

Results from ballot measures:

This election season also had a number of notable measures on ballots across the U.S. Here are a few of the results:

  • California’s contentious Prop 22 passed, meaning “app-based” rideshare and delivery drivers are defined as independent contractors. This could shift the landscape of the entire gig economy (in favor of employers like Uber and Lyft). The Washington Post has some thoughts here (paywall).
  • Several states—Montana, South Dakota, Arizona, and New Jersey—legalized recreational marijuana; Mississippi legalized medical marijuana. Oregon went further and decriminalized small amounts of heroin and cocaine; DC decriminalized psychedelic drugs. The Guardian has more here.
  • Redistricting reform was approved in two states. In Virginia, voters decided to switch from a strictly legislature-drawn map to one created by a commission including legislators and citizens. Different story in Missouri—they will shelf a 2018 plan to use a nonpartisan demographer to draw district lines, opting instead to use a bipartisan commission. The approved measure included a “one person, one vote” provision, seemingly democratic language that would actually mean the state would only consider eligible voters when apportioning districts. That could mean determining district sizes and lines would actually exclude some Missourians, such as children and undocumented individuals. NPR has more here.
  • Illinois voters overwhelmingly denied a measure to switch the state’s income tax structure from a flat rate to a graduated one. The flat rate, a regressive structure that disproportionately puts the burden of raising tax dollars on lower and middle income communities, was heavily opposed by Illinois’ wealthy corporations and individuals who spent millions of dollars to distort what the tax change would do. In addition to this being a prime example of how money in politics prevents progress, it also means Illinois will have to make further cuts to its state budget during this economic crisis. Here’s a very insightful take on this development from an Illinois state legislator.

There were also a bunch of important developments in criminal justice reform, like bail reform and voting rights for returning citizens, and transportation, like improvements to Austin’s public transportation system. CityLab has more here.

What else?

  • On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he believes the next economic stimulus package needs to pass before the end of the year. It will be interesting to see if and how President Trump’s lame duck status will affect negotiations.
  • The Philadelphia Police Department released body cam footage from the police shooting of Walter Wallace, Jr. One of the most important details taken from the footage: Following the shots, one of the officers claimed Wallace was “f****** chasing us.” NPR points out that “Wallace never appears to get closer than 10 to 15 feet” from the officers. For background, read the previous edition of The Wrap.
News from abroad:
  • In a terror attack on Monday, a lone gunman shot and killed four people in Vienna, Austria; 13 others were struck by bullets. The attacker, who is in custody, reportedly has ties to the Islamic State. The terrorist group did claim credit. More from the AP here.
  • As part of France’s developing response to separate attacks, President Emmanuel Macron has also called for changes to the European “Schengen area.” The Schengen is a jurisdiction in which the participating nations agree to certain travel and border standards. (Think: which passports are accepted; how freely people can move between the Schengen countries.)
  • The European Union has reached a preliminary agreement regarding its “rule of law” provisions. These would require EU countries to meet certain democratic standards, such as freedom of press and independent judiciary bodies.
  • Following historic protests, the Polish government has decided to delay its new near-ban on abortion. One government official said the delay is meant to allow for more “dialogue.” Here’s more from The Guardian.
  • Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci resigned this week. He is facing international charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his activities as a guerrilla leader during the Serbian civil war in the ’90s.
Climate news:
  • The U.S. officially left the Paris Climate Accord on Wednesday. Expect this to change again immediately following Joe Biden’s inauguration, as it’s a top priority for his climate plan.

What to expect next week:

  • Congress: Likely nothing, but there could be some small talks regarding stimulus negotiations.

Interesting Reads

  • Regardless of your political affiliation or how you vote, you have to acknowledge how the South Carolina senate race could be an inflection point for Republican dominance in the South. The Atlantic’s Adam Harris discusses how Jaime Harrison’s candidacy, like those of Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Andrew Gillum in Florida in 2018 gubernatorial races, will have a lasting impact on the state and region’s politics.

___

That’s a wrap. Look out for our next piece on Tuesday or Wednesday on ranked choice voting!

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