Voters give felons back the vote, expand Medicaid
Voters approved a slate of progressive state ballot measures Tuesday, expanding access to legal marijuana, extending Medicaid coverage, raising minimum wages, and granting voting rights to felons. In three red states—Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah—voters approved measures to expand Medicaid, extending coverage to hundreds of thousands of lower-income residents. In Florida, voters resoundingly favored a closely watched initiative restoring voting rights to felons who had finished their sentences. Under Florida law, most felons had been disenfranchised for life. “Right about now, we can presently say that we have made history,” said Rhonda Thomas, a Florida pastor and a leader of the voting rights campaign. Voters in two conservative states approved minimum wage hikes that will kick in over several years—to $11 an hour in Arkansas and $12 in Missouri. And by a comfortable margin, Michigan became the 10th state in the nation, and the first in the Midwest, to legalize recreational marijuana; medical marijuana initiatives passed in Utah and Missouri.
Conservatives scored wins, too. A hotly contested bid to create the nation’s first carbon tax was soundly defeated in Washington. Voters in Maine rejected a first-of-its-kind proposal to guarantee universal home care for seniors and people with disabilities. North Carolina and Arkansas passed measures mandating photo ID for voters. And in Alabama and West Virginia, voters wrote abortion bans into their state constitutions; Alabama’s will also now specifically recognize the rights of unborn children.
What the columnists said
By granting the vote to convicted felons, Florida has banished “the ghost of Jim Crow,” said Conor Friedersdorf in TheAtlantic.com. The bar on voting was part of a sordid history of suppressing voting by blacks, who are disproportionately arrested and imprisoned. The “hugely consequential” measure extends the vote to more than 1 million people, a potential game changer not only statewide but nationally: In the past two presidential elections, the margin of victory in Florida was 1.2 percent or less.
Tuesday’s results are “a new high for marijuana legalization advocates,” said Abby Vesoulis in Time. Thirty-three states now have some form of legalized marijuana, and Tuesday’s vote comes on the heels of legalization in Canada and a decision decriminalizing pot by Mexico’s Supreme Court. But it’s not all smooth sailing, said Christopher Ingraham in The Washington Post. The resounding rejection of a legalization bill in deep-red North Dakota “underscores Republican skepticism.”
The trio of ballot initiatives expanding Medicaid proves that voters are coming around on Obamacare, said Harold Meyerson in the Los Angeles Times. Foes of the Affordable Care act disparaged the expansion of Medicaid. Now voters in three “rock-solid red states” have insisted on it, joining 33 other states that had already expanded the benefit. These ballot wins show that when they’re not distracted by lies, “the American people can figure out what’s actually good for them.”