Ten Things to Watch (Besides the Presidential Battle) This Election Day

A historic two-year presidential campaign that has captured the attention of the entire world will wrap up today, and all eyes are understandably fixed on the outcome.

But there's a lot more to keep an eye on as results start rolling in. New groups of voters are expected to turn out in large numbers; the composition of the House and Senate is going to become more Democratic and crucially important measures will be decided by voters in a number of states.

Here, in no particular order, are the 10 things other than the contest between John McCain and Barack Obama that we'll be following closely.

1. The Democrats Are Vying for 60 Senate Seats, but Will Georgia's Race Be Decided This Month?

If Barack Obama wins the White House today, his ability to fulfill the promise of change that has been at the heart of his campaign will to be tempered by composition of the Senate. Most handicappers project that the Dems will add six or seven seats to their current tally of 51 (including two independents who caucus with them). But the Democrats might sweep a number of Republicans out of even reliably conservative states.

Among the most interesting "red state" Senate races is that between incumbent Saxby Chambliss and Democratic challenger Jim Martin. Chambliss is up by an average of around 3 points in the final polls, but what makes the race so fascinating is that under Georgia law, a candidate must win more than 50 percent of the vote to take office. That makes Libertarian candidate Allen Buckley, who took 2 percent of the vote in his 2004 senate race, a potential spoiler for Chambliss, who has topped the 50 percent mark in only one poll since the end of September. If neither Chambliss nor Martin gets a majority, then they'll square off in a runoff vote to determine the winner in early December. It's a likely outcome; if it occurs, the second vote will represent an intense national battle between the two major parties.

2. Will Netroots Candidates Storm Washington?

After the 2006 midterm elections swept in a Democratic majority in Congress, the corporate media focused almost obsessively on a group of conservative Dems who had won seats in conservative-leaning districts. The message was that the new majority had its "blue dogs" -- its conservative wing -- to thank for the victory, and that it would have to move to the Right in order to govern.

That's why the electoral fortunes of this year's crop of "netroots" candidates -- progressive Democrats, all -- will be important to watch. If the next Congress is to pass a desperately needed progressive agenda, it's going to require not just more Democrats, but better Democrats.

Perhaps the most closely watched race for the online progressive community is that pitting Democrat Darcy Burner against GOP incumbent Dave Reichert in Washington's 8th district. Burner, best known for her leadership role in the Responsible Plan to end the occupation of Iraq (PDF), is a hero within the progressive blogosphere.

We'll be watching that race, as well as those of candidates like Eric Massa in New York's 29th, Dan Seals in Illinois' 10th, Dan Maffei in New York's 25th and other progressive Dems.

3. Massachusetts' Reactionary Tax Proposal

In Massachusetts, anti-tax activists have gotten an initiative on the ballot that would go a long way toward fulfilling the conservative dream of shrinking government down to a size where it could be drowned in a bathtub.

The Coalition for Our Communities -- which opposes the measure -- has the scoop…

The income tax question on the ballot this fall is a reckless proposal that will have severe and immediate consequences for all of us. This binding referendum will take more than $12 billion -- nearly 40 percent -- out of the state budget, driving up local property taxes and leading to drastic cuts in services. Our communities will suffer sweeping education cuts, steep reductions in public safety personnel and further deterioration of roads and bridges. Times are hard enough. Let's not make them worse.
4. Abortion Measures on State Ballots

In 2006, a proposed ban on abortions in South Dakota went down to defeat by a 12-point margin. This year, the measure has been retooled and is again on the state's ballot as Proposition 11.

In California, Prop. 4 is a parental notification law that would force health care providers to notify the parents of teens seeking an abortion. The problem is that research shows that most teens facing such a choice do notify their parents, and the majority who keep it to themselves do so out of fear that they'll become victims of abuse.

In Colorado, Amendment 48 would define a fertilized egg as a person, which would impact not only abortion rights, but contraception, fertility treatment and some kinds of scientific research.

As Jessica Arons points out, these local initiatives are part of a nationwide strategy …
What voters should understand is that, regardless of their various strategic determinations, the leaders behind these initiatives are all working with the common goal of undermining Roe in the short term and reversing it in the long term. They have already achieved too much of this plan, and we should not allow them to go any farther…
Their initiatives at the state level are just one part of that plan. In fact, two of the three measures voters will decide this Election Day are intended to provide a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and open the door for a national ban on abortion.
5. Will the "Sleeping Giant" Stir?

Pro-immigrant groups are registering hundreds of thousands of new citizens and encouraging them to vote. They, along with earlier generations of immigrants, are motivated in large part by the passions surrounding the often-heated debate over immigration.

Many "new voters" are located in the crucial battleground states that will ultimately decide not only this election, but the political landscape in the United States for years to come. We'll be watching to see if these voters come out in the numbers organizers have promised.

6. Single Women Are More Progressive Voters

According to a study by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, unmarried women are the most dependably progressive voters in the electorate. They supported Democrats with 62 percent of their vote in 2004 and 65 percent in 2006.

But, as Lea Lane wrote on the Huffington Post, "single women of all ages, the fastest growing group of eligible voters (53 million), have been the least likely to vote of any group, including African-Americans or Hispanics: Twenty million of them didn't vote in the 2004 presidential election."

With the economy a wreck that may change, and we'll be watching how this crucial voting bloc impacts Tuesday's outcome.

7. Will the Youth Vote Finally Come Out?

Conventional wisdom holds that younger voters are highly motivated for this election, and they're breaking for Obama by close to a 2-to-1 margin. Youth voting activists promise that voters ages 18 to 29 are going to come to the polls in game-changing numbers.

But we've heard that promise many times before, only to be disappointed come Election Day. And while young people's participation rate has increased modestly in each of the last three election cycles, the Gallup polling organization finds "little evidence of a surge in young voter turnout beyond what it was in 2004. While young voter registration may be up slightly over 2004, the reported level of interest in the election and intention to vote among those under 30 are no higher than they were that year."

We'll be watching the youth vote to see whether the Kids Are Alright or Gallup's polling data are right.

8. California Voters Have a Chance to Bring Sanity to an Insane "Drug War"

California voters will have the opportunity to vote yes on Prop. 5, a measure that would greatly expand drug rehab for nonviolent offenders and ease the state's overburdened prison system.

Last week, Silvia Talvi wrote of the measure:
The proposition has been years in the making, in consultation with drug addiction recovery and rehabilitation experts, research scientists, even law enforcement and corrections personnel. The initiative is a big one, both in text length and impact: According to the independent Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO), the measure would require $1 billion in spending each year, something that would be completely offset by $1 billion in savings from the ever-increasing prison and parole budget in the State of California. To boot, the LAO projects an additional net savings of $2.5 billion over the next few years because unnecessary prison construction would not be undertaken.
The cost savings are undeniable, and terribly necessary. Currently, the cost to operate the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) stands at $10 billion, and operating capacity in some prisons exceeds 200 percent.
If the measure passes, the program will serve as a model for other states. We'll be watching closely.

9. Marriage Equality on the Ballot in Three States

Various initiatives to strip gays and lesbians of their full civil rights are going to be decided -- Prop 8. in California, Amendment 2 in Florida and Prop. 102 in Arizona.

As I wrote recently …
(Marriage equality) isn't an issue of a minority group pushing its "agenda" on an unwilling majority, or a case of activist judges "legislating from the bench." The simple fact is that the legal basis for discriminating against gays and lesbians had long been that their intimate activities were illegal in many states. When state sodomy laws were struck down in the Supreme Court's landmark ruling Lawrence v. Texas, the idea that gay and lesbian couples could be treated as "separate but equal" under the law vanished (even Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with that premise in his fiery dissent) …
It's the underlying principle at stake that's so important. Either the law treats all citizens the same, regardless of race, sex, creed, how they identify themselves or whom they happen to love, or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then my own rights are in no way secure.
Research shows a correlation between voters' age and their support for civil rights for gays and lesbians, so the youth vote may play a huge role in whether these measures pass or fail.

10. Equal Opportunity at Stake in Colorado

Ward Connerly's long struggle to end affirmative action programs in the United States has now landed in Colorado (after fights in California, Michigan and Washington). Connerly, through deceptive spin and appeals to Americans' baser instincts, got Amendment 46 on the ballot.

From the coalition opposing the measure …
Amendment 46 (would) change Colorado's Constitution to prohibit the state (and local governments, schools and universities) from offering any type of equal opportunity programs to women and people of color in Colorado in the areas of employment, education, and contracting.
Here are several examples of programs that would be threatened by Amendment 46:

* Florence Crittendon School -- This public/private partnership provides middle and high school education services to pregnant and parenting teen girls.

* The Colorado Equal Pay Commission -- The Governor's commission works to reduce the gender-pay gap for women.

* Women in Engineering Program -- This program at Colorado University works with girls in grades 9-12 to help them succeed in high school and consider degrees in engineering when they go to college.
What Are You Watching?

Of course, we'll also have a sharp eye on the lines at the polls, difficulties with the voting process and other election protection issues.

But there's a lot going on. Did we miss something of key importance? Tell us what you're focusing on in the comments!

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