You’ve probably heard that we just had a huge election. History-making huge. A record-breaking number of voters—including massive, game-changing numbers of young voters—turned out in the middle of a pandemic to elect the most diverse Congress ever AND a new president AND the first woman (and first Black and Indian-American) vice president.
As usual, the presidential race and all the other top-tier contests got the most attention from the media. Those races were critically important, no doubt, but like we’ve been saying for a long time, local races and down-ballot measures can have an even bigger impact on most people’s daily lives.
That was definitely true this year as well, so we’re here to shine a spotlight on issues you might not have heard about. Here are five big but lesser-known Election Day victories we should all be celebrating.
Item number 1
Florida voters approve a $15 minimum wage
This Election Day, 61% of Florida voters supported Amendment 2, the minimum wage ballot initiative, which called for raising the statewide minimum wage from $8.56 (which it is currently) to $15 by 2026. Florida is now one of only eight states to have a $15 minimum wage—although we hope others will soon follow suit. Meanwhile, the federal minimum wage is only $7.25, and has been since 2009. Isn’t it time to give minimum-wage workers no matter where they are a big raise?
Item number 2
Support for cannabis legalization remains high
While, as predicted, it took awhile for the votes in the presidential race to be counted, there was no delay in calling cannabis a big winner on Election Day. We believe that legalization only works if it benefits everyone, which is why we hope you’ll join us in continuing to push for cannabis justice, but it was still good to see that four more states—Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Montana—voted to permit recreational use. With South Dakota and Mississippi also passing initiatives this year to allow medical use, that brings us to 15 pro-recreational states and 36 that have given medical cannabis a thumbs-up. Seems that few issues unite voters in red states and blue like legalization.
Item number 3
Voters just say no to the war on drugs
Providing a further repudiation of the catastrophically ineffective, destructive, and racist “war on drugs,” voters embraced decriminalization in Washington, DC, and Oregon this year. This is huge, because for decades the drug war has disproportionately targeted communities of color—Black people, to mention just one example, are incarcerated six times more often than white people, despite using drugs at the same rate. In DC voters supported the decriminalization of psychedelic mushrooms. In Oregon, they went even farther, supporting measures that would decriminalize all drugs. Coupled with Americans’ increasing support for cannabis legalization, these results indicate that our country is undergoing a huge shift in how we understand recreational drug use and treat substance use disorders.
Item number 4
Colorado supports women and families
Paid family and medical leave is critical for women. More often than not, women bear the burden of managing the care of children and sick loved ones, which means, without the protection of paid leave, they are disportionately forced to drop out of the workforce. (COVID has exacerbated this problem, and is hitting women of color hardest.) This leaves many families struggling, since, thanks to sexism, bias, and the gender pay gap, women (and women of color in particular) already make significantly less money than men. Some states are finally trying to do something about it. For six years the Colorado legislature tried and failed to pass a paid family and medical leave program, but this year, voters took care of it themselves. Colorado is now the ninth state to enact such a program. Paid leave benefits all of us, and we hope other states will step up soon.
Item number 5
Nebraskans vote to end predatory lending
Payday loans are short-term, high-cost loans that typically have to be repaid on the borrower’s next payday. Lenders disproportionately target Black and Brown people, the elderly, and low-income communities with terms of repayment so harsh that borrowers wind up sinking deeper and deeper in debt. This Election Day, voters in Nebraska overwhelmingly passed Measure 428, which made Nebraska the 17th state (plus DC) to put restrictions on payday-loan interest rates and fees. Measure 428 caps interest rates at 36% annually—which might still seem a bit high... until you learn that the average rate in Nebraska on these loans is 404%! Thank you, Nebraska, for taking another small but important step toward achieving a more just economic system for all Americans.
Item number 6
Progressive prosecutors keep racking up wins
If you know how we feel about the role of prosecutors in today’s criminal justice system, then you know how glad we were to see more and more reform-minded prosecutors win elections this year. In races all over the country, from Florida to Michigan, and Colorado to California, voters called for the transformation of the criminal justice system. They supported increased police accountability, an end to mass incarceration, and a rethinking of money bail. A prosecutorial reform movement has truly taken hold, and we couldn’t be happier.
We should all take a moment to celebrate these and other victories for justice and equity this year. But then we have to get back to work—pushing for more progress, holding our leaders accountable, and ensuring that every single person in this country is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. We’re all in this together, so let’s make it happen!