Where voters stopped privatization, expanded democracy, and funded public services this Election Day


It’s too easy to come out of Election Day with simplistic, black and white conclusions. Either our team won or lost, and our emotions follow suit. But progress was made Tuesday in places as diverse as Utah and Baltimore.

Voters chose to side with the common good in three powerful ways: stopping privatization, expanding democracy, and implementing progressive taxes to pay for much-needed public services.

This should give us hope in our struggle against a “vaguely defined national philosophy that protects the privileges of the wealthy and powerful,” as In the Public Interest Executive Director Donald Cohen described it in Dismantling Democracy.

This is not a comprehensive list — if you have others, please share them in the comments.

Stopping privatization

Baltimore made history by becoming the first major U.S. city to prohibit the sale and lease of its water and sewer system. Multinational water corporations had been circling like vultures for years, and with the Trump administration pushing federal support for infrastructure privatization, private investors, as Mark Twain once wrote, saw “gold in them thar hills.” But now the city can get to work ensuring that every resident has clean water at a price they can afford to pay.

Arizona voters rejected a massive expansion of the state’s private school voucher program that would’ve drained more money and support from public schools.

Austin, Texas, voted down a third-party “efficiency study” of the city’s operations and finances, which could have laid the groundwork for privatization of public services.

Voters in Florida’s Escambia County voted to prohibit the sale or lease of currently unleased properties on Santa Rosa Island, the site of the what was perhaps the very first privatization, the earliest European settlement in what is now the mainland United States.

Voters in San Diego chose to boost transparency in city contracts by requiring all businesses and individuals who would benefit financially to be revealed before the council approves any such deal.

California’s Monterey County is poised to take back its water from a multinational water corporation as a ballot measure exploring a public buyout looks to have enough votes to succeed. The corporation spent $3 million — 19 times more than a local pro-public group — but the case for public water appears to have prevailed.

Expanding democracy

Florida returned voting rights to all previously convicted felons in the state (except for those who committed murder or sex offenses), which means more than 1 million people will be added to the voter rolls.

Massachusetts became the first state to uphold ballot box protections for transgender and non-binary people by voting to preserve the state’s anti-discrimination law.

Voters in Michigan, Colorado, and Missouri all decided in strong majorities to end gerrymandering, the practice of political redistricting.

Colorado voters protected democracy by turning down a measure that would have allowed property owners to sue the government when a public action or regulation reduced their property’s value.

Nashville residents voted overwhelmingly to create a new citizen-led panel to oversee the actions of police.

And related…Oakland voters forced large hotels to pay their employees a minimum wage of $15 an hour and provide panic buttons to protect workers from sexual assaults and harassment. Democracy and freedom in the workplace freedom is crucial to the common good.

Progressive taxes for public goods

San Francisco voters approved a tax on large corporations to raise enough money to nearly double what the city spends on homeless services and housing.

Voters in Portland passed a tax on large corporations to fund clean energy projects such as weatherizing homes, installing solar and other renewable energy projects, providing job and contractor training, expanding local food production, and building green infrastructure while focusing on communities of color and people with low incomes.

California residents decided to keep the state’s gas tax, which generates roughly $5 billion for road repairs and improvements per year.

Seattle voters raised the property taxes on some homes to fund subsidized preschool, support programs in Seattle Public Schools.

And related…voters in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah used initiatives to force their states to expand Medicaid eligibility.

It wasn’t all good news, as you surely know by now. As just one example, voters in Colorado and Oklahoma, states where teachers walked out earlier this year, decided against increasing funding for public schools.

As always, the struggle continues.


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Jeremy Mohler is a writer and communications strategist for In the Public Interest, a nonprofit that studies public goods and services. He’d love to hear from you: jmohler@inthepublicinterest.org