November 3, 2023

Pay Attention to Election Day 2023

Russ Feingold President

Much of the news cycle these days is already consumed with the 2024 election cycle, but we mustn’t look past the magnitude of the 2023 election cycle. There are big elections in several states this month, with implications for all of us. For instance, this election cycle could directly and indirectly impact abortion access in several states and corresponding regions.

In Ohio, voters will go to the polls to vote on a ballot initiative to add a right to make one’s own reproductive health care decisions to the state constitution. This is the ballot initiative that conservative Ohio legislators sought to thwart three months ago by amending the state constitution to change the requirements for citizen-initiated ballot initiatives. Ohio voters saw the ploy for what it was and turned out in record numbers in the August election to reject the initiative 56.5 percent to 43.5 percent. As a result, a simple majority is still all that is needed to pass a ballot initiative in Ohio to amend the state constitution. Since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, voters in red, blue, and purple states have consistently voted in favor of abortion rights when the issue is on the ballot. Folks in and outside of Ohio are tracking this ballot initiative closely as the latest litmus test for the effectiveness of ballot initiatives to protect abortion rights and the broader electoral impact of having abortion on the ballot.

Next Tuesday, Virginia voters will determine control of their state legislature. Currently, the VA General Assembly is split, with Republicans controlling the House (52/48) and Democrats controlling the Senate (22/18). All 140 legislative seats are on the ballot next week. VA Governor Glenn Youngkin is not on the ballot and will not be until 2025. As a result, the outcome of next week’s elections could determine the Governor’s ability to implement his agenda, including his goal of restricting access to abortion in Virginia. Right now, Virginia, a purple state, is one of only a handful of states in the south with any access to abortion care and the only southern state where that access extends beyond the earliest weeks of pregnancy.

In Mississippi and Kentucky, voters will be casting ballots for Governor, Secretary of State, and State Attorney General (AG), and Louisiana voters will be casting ballots for Secretary of State and State AG. These positions are important generally, but they are particularly important when our country is facing mounting threats to our election security, to the rule of law, and to our fundamental freedoms. By way of example, several of these elections could have implications for abortion rights.

In Mississippi, abortion rights are front and center in the state AG race, with an incumbent who advocated in support of Mississippi’s extreme abortion restrictions in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health and argued that Mississippi authorities should be able to access information and investigate abortions obtained in other states where abortion is legal. Her opponent, in contrast, is championing abortion rights. In the Kentucky gubernatorial election, the democratic incumbent is up against the current state AG, who has defended Kentucky’s abortion ban, even after Kentucky voters rejected a ballot initiative last year that would have added a ban on abortion to the state constitution.

In Louisiana, where abortion is illegal with very limited exceptions, the current conservative state AG will be the state’s next Governor, and voters will elect the next state AG on November 18. The two state AG candidates offer contrasting views on abortion, with only one candidate advocating for changes to the state’s restrictive abortion policy and opposing further invasions of privacy and bodily autonomy. While abortion is not explicitly on the ballot in these states like it is in Ohio, these elections could still impact abortion rights in these states and will be scrutinized closely in assessing what the impact of abortion rights could be in next year’s elections.

If there is an election in your state this month and you are eligible, make sure to vote. Remind your friends and family to vote. Whether or not you are heading to the polls, however, pay attention to this election cycle, as they will impact the national legal and political landscape and could shape the 2024 election cycle.

Our ability to exercise our right to vote depends in part on having people willing and able to staff polling places. Thank you to everyone who is serving as a poll worker or an election administrator this year. It is also not too early to take our pledge to serve as a poll worker next year. Serving as a poll worker is one of the most impactful things we can do as individuals to protect voting rights and counter election subversion.