Election Day!

Elections 2011: Personhood Vote in Mississippi, Kentucky Governor & More

From Kentucky governor to a Mississippi ballot initiative on “personhood,” John Avlon looks at major elections Tuesday.

Political Sex Scandal. Those words suck up all the oxygen in an election-year debate. So much so that with all the breathless Herman Cain coverage, we’re in danger of collectively ignoring that today—Tuesday Nov. 8—is Election Day. The real thing. Actual votes are being cast in a handful of states that will have real impact. And while I won’t bother you with a litany of judicial elections, here is a cheat sheet of the major off-cycle elections to look out for:

MISSISSIPPI: It sounds like science fiction—an anodyne-sounding “personhood” amendment asserting that life begins at conception, with a wide array of intended consequences—an outright ban on all abortions in the state, as well as the banning of birth control like the “morning after pill” and a possible ban on IVF treatments. Even in socially conservative Mississippi, polls show this vote is too close to call. To give you a sense of how far-out the ballot initiative is, even the National Right to Life organization is not supporting the effort, which is designed by anti-abortion activists to provoke a Supreme Court challenge to Roe v. Wade. Keep in mind that off-cycle elections are likely to have relatively low turnout compared with presidential elections. Then take a look at the intentionally vague language that is actually on the ballot: “Should the term ‘person’ be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof?” 
This could be considered the most big-government infringement on individual liberty in a very long time, although social conservatives no doubt would disagree. The bottom line is this vote matters. Oh, and there is a governor’s race on the ballot—replacing the popular but term-limited Haley Barbour.

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR: The headline here is that the home state of Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul has a popular incumbent Democratic governor, Steve Beshear. The sub-header is that his GOP opponent raised some eyebrows when he seemed to call for the conversion of Hindus to Christianity. The kicker is that this social-conservative populist pander play doesn’t seem to be working in the Bluegrass State—polls show Beshear coasting to reelection.

SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR: Is the City by the Bay set to elect its first Chinese-American mayor? That’s the question voters will resolve if they cast their ballots for acting mayor Ed Lee, a competent but charisma-free supervisor who stepped in when Gavin Newsom was elected lieutenant governor of California (and promptly moved to Marin County). Among Lee’s assets in the election is the funniest campaign ad of the cycle, featuring the all-important MC Hammer endorsement—complete with a fitting rendition of “Too Legit to Quit.”

OHIO: The Buckeye State is holding the other most-watched ballot initiative in the country—a referendum on Republican Gov. John Kasich’s collective-bargaining reforms, which public-sector unions have declared an existential threat that echoes Scott Walker’s actions in Wisconsin. Defenders of the proposal say it is necessary to get the state’s long-term finances under control. The real underlying issue at stake is the 2012 election. Ohio is a key swing state bellwether. Republicans who win Ohio have historically gone on to win the presidency. If Democratic-backed unions can marshal their members and the middle class, it will be an important indication of their strength in advance of 2012.

All these elections aren’t about a horse race or a theoretical debate—they are the main events in these states, with real impact reaching into 2012 and beyond. So even though it doesn’t involve a sex scandal, it’s worth taking an extra look at the news tomorrow night. And, if you live in those respective states—vote.