On Nov. 8, six years ago, I went to bed heartsick and devastated, knowing not only that Hillary Clinton had lost the Electoral College vote but that Michigan’s 16 votes would be allotted to her opponent. Our margin of defeat, a mere 10,704 votes, could have been made up through better turnout in my own county, where I was active in Democratic leadership.
Thankfully, this Nov. 8, I went to sleep around midnight feeling more sanguine about our prospects. I woke up at 5 AM on the 9th, however, to check later results, and what I saw then caused me to weep tears of joy and relief. It was already clear that we had passed the two critical ballot proposals, Prop 2 (expanded voting rights) and Prop 3 (abortion rights!), and that we had reelected our fabulous slate of executives and retained our majority on the state Supreme Court.
Since then, we have heard the even more gratifying news that we now have a trifecta in the state, having flipped the state Senate and the state House. To cap it off, we have secured a majority of the 13 congressional seats, with incumbent Democratic representatives Elissa Slotkin and Dan Kildee fighting off strong challengers, and Hillary Scholten flipping Michigan’s 3rd District.
What made the difference this year? While we had excellent candidates, compelling proposals, and a much stronger political infrastructure than ever, I believe that the record turnout we had for a midterm election would not have happened, and would not have had the same impact, without the hard, strategic organizing that local activists have pursued for the past six years.
Three important amendments to the Michigan Constitution were proposed and passed in 2018, each of them requiring massive amounts of energy, time, and money to bring to the ballot as citizen referenda. Passage of 2018’s Proposal 2, thanks to the leadership of Voters Not Politicians, enabled us to establish a nonpartisan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC). The CRC caught a lot of heat for their work, and the results are not perfect. But having largely non-skewed districts this year made it possible to argue more convincingly that every vote would matter for every race.
Also in 2018, the passage of Proposal 3 amended our state Constitution to permit far more voter-friendly election policies. It also allowed for same-day voter registration up to and including Election Day—which is what contributed to the long lines of students we saw at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University on Tuesday. It also enabled no-excuse absentee voting, another huge gain (which wound up also saving our state, and likely the country, in 2020 when in-person voting was so fraught with risk).
Eli Savit, Washtenaw County prosecuting attorney, explains the significance of these 2018 campaigns:
To be honest, Proposal 1 in 2018 also played a key role in boosting turnout among progressive-leaning voters. This proposal permitted recreational marijuana possession and commercial sale. Together with the other two proposals, this drew a lot of people to the polls who were eager to implement these significant reforms. They all passed with healthy margins.
In 2018, we also elected the kickass group of statewide officials, namely Gretchen Whitmer and her running mate, Garlin Gilchrist II, Dana Nessel, and Jocelyn Benson, who rose brilliantly in 2020 to the then-unforeseen challenges presented by COVID-19. (Obviously, we suffered severe losses—but I have no doubt that under GOP leadership, the results would have been even more catastrophic.)
This year, grassroots organizers working hard to spread the word that we needed to protect voting rights and abortion rights through passage of Prop 2 and Prop 3, helped boost the Democratic ticket too. And so here we are, celebrating and thinking about what to tackle next.
One heartening aspect of our electoral success is to see our elected officials in leadership ready and eager to leap ahead. Check out Sen. Dayna Polehanki’s jubilant thread:
The other key difference between 2016 and now, at least from my perspective, is that no matter the outcome of the election on Tuesday, we all would have plenty to do and plenty to build on. Our community-based advocacy organizations campaigning for economic and environmental justice (like We the People Michigan and so many others) have an ambitious long-term vision, and practical short-term goals. We know in our bones the truth of the old Paul Wellstone saying, “We all do better when we all do better.”
Consider this thread by the amazing Art Reyes III, the founding executive director of We The People Michigan.
Read his whole thread to learn more about the indefatigable Betsy Coffia, who won her race for MI-103 House by a mere 400 votes—thanks in large part to her track record as an organizer among local farm workers in Cherry Country (Leelanau County, north of Traverse City).
Democratic candidates and campaigns for progressive proposals reinforced each other this year, creating strong coalitions based on mutual interest in delivering power to the people.
I spent my last day of GOTV outreach this year talking with voters who were remarkably well-informed about the issues and candidates, as well as with local community activists who are deeply committed to opening up the political process. These conversations imbued me with hope for the possibility of building on our grassroots successes, one neighborhood and municipality at a time.
Then on Tuesday, volunteering as a poll challenger in a precinct nearby, I wound up wishing I could take some photos and videos of the scene. It’s a beautiful and inspiring sight to see Americans differing in age, gender, race, language, and abilities all coming together with determination and good will to take part in this essential duty of citizenship.
So after taking a couple of days to rest and to celebrate, I plan to follow up with all the lovely activists I know, some of long acquaintance and some brand-new to me, to talk about where we go from here. We won big! And these wins make it possible for us to strategize for more.
And, wonder of wonders, Michigan is not alone in newly achieving a trifecta in the state government. So my questions also apply to you who reside in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. What priorities are you hoping that the state (or your local area) tackles next? Do you anticipate a big green wave of climate-justice legislation, complementing the federal funds heading our way? Which organizations are you hoping to support in addressing them? Please boost your own favorites and report on the campaigns and projects you think we all need to tackle, working at long last from a position of strength.
I shed a lot of tears after the 2016 election. It looks like I will be weeping a lot after this one, too—thankfully, this time, they are tears of joy.
Holy crap, what an amazing night! Where do we even begin this week’s episode of The Downballot? Well, we know exactly where: abortion. Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard recap Tuesday’s extraordinary results, starting with a clear-eyed examination of the issue that animated Democrats as never before—and that pundits got so badly wrong. They also discuss candidate quality (still really important!), Democratic meddling in GOP primaries (good for democracy, actually), and “soft” Biden disapprovers (lots of them voted for Democrats).
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