Tyronne Walker is working overtime to let Black voters know what’s on the line in Louisiana.
The Urban League of Louisiana and its partners recently hosted a statewide registration day for Black and brown voters. Walker told Capital B that he and his colleagues’ primary goal is “to position [Black communities] to show their collective power.”
The stakes are high in Louisiana. Whoever triumphs in the secretary of state election will be in position to overhaul the voting system — a duty that carries tremendous importance in a state with an especially violent history of restricting Black people’s access to the polls.
In other words, race will be on the ballot on Nov. 18.
The same was true in a number of states on Tuesday.
In Kentucky, racial justice advocates viewed the gubernatorial election as a kind of referendum on Daniel Cameron, the attorney general who decided not to bring charges against the police officers involved in the 2020 killing of Breonna Taylor. He lost his bid.
Meanwhile, in Mississippi, activists were hoping that voters’ decision in 2020 to banish a Jim Crow-era law would allow Black residents to sway a gubernatorial contest like never before. But Republican Gov. Tate Reeves won reelection, continuing GOP control.
In the months ahead, Capital B also will be keeping an eye on North Carolina’s 2024 gubernatorial election. Mark Robinson, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, is currently the Republican front-runner. He’s come under fierce scrutiny in recent months for his promotion of conspiracy theories and his penchant for denigrating women, LGBTQ people, and Jews.
Read on for more about the role of race in political contests in Louisiana, Kentucky, and Mississippi, as well as in Senate and House elections in Virginia and in an abortion access measure in Ohio.
Louisiana secretary of state election (Nov. 18)
Who’s running? Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup is competing against Republican Nancy Landry. The incumbent, Republican Kyle Ardoin, chose not to run for reelection. If Collins-Greenup wins, she’ll be the first Black woman to hold the office.
Collins-Greenup and Landry advanced from the all-party primary that was held on Oct. 14, which was the same day that Republican Jeff Landry, who’s the state’s current attorney general, won Louisiana’s gubernatorial race.
What’s at stake? One of the chief responsibilities that will be waiting for the winner will be revamping Louisiana’s election machines.
Ardoin — who, notably, has sought to obstruct Black Louisianans’ efforts to get a second majority-Black congressional district — led a commission that was supposed to offer a road map for procuring new technology. The commission, however, mostly became a platform for baseless tub-thumping about how the 2020 presidential contest was stolen.
Both Collins-Greenup and Landry have vowed to update the state’s voting system. But the former has been more vocal about the importance of safeguarding the sanctity of the ballot box, saying that she’ll “secure our elections, and protect every eligible Louisiana citizen’s right to vote.”
This is no small message in a state with a long history of using a variety of tactics, from poll taxes to understanding clauses to outright violence, to reduce the political strength of Black Louisianans.
Kentucky gubernatorial election (Nov. 7)
Who won? Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, the incumbent, defeated Republican challenger Daniel Cameron. In 2019, Cameron, who had Trump’s endorsement, became the first Black American to be elected as the state’s attorney general.
What was at stake? The election revealed lots about the state of racial justice and government accountability in ruby-red Kentucky.
The March 2020 police killing of Breonna Taylor still looms over the state — as does the fact that Cameron ultimately chose not to prosecute the officers who barged into the 26-year-old’s apartment and fatally shot her. Advocates had been using Taylor’s death to energize Black Kentuckians and defeat Cameron.
“The movement won’t let us go,” Shameka Parrish-Wright, the executive director of criminal justice and harm reduction advocacy group VOCAL-KY, told The 19th. “The injustices that are built in our governments, our local governments, our local politics — our local everything — are now being more exposed. It’s a time of awakening for some folks and action for some folks.”
A Cameron win would’ve had the effect of “rolling back the great gains we’ve had in social justice,” she added.
Mississippi gubernatorial election (Nov. 7)
Who won? Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, the incumbent, defeated his Democratic opponent, Brandon Presley. Presley has been a member of the Mississippi Public Service Commission from the Northern District since 2008. And from 2001 to 2007, he was the mayor of Nettleton, Mississippi. He’s the second cousin of Elvis Presley.
What was at stake? For Black Mississippians, the surprisingly competitive election was seen as an unprecedented opportunity to exercise their political power.
Over just the past three years, two key developments have occurred. A federal court in August tossed out a law that had permanently disenfranchised people convicted of certain felonies and that had disproportionately affected Black Mississippians. (The case is currently frozen in the appeal process in the Fifth Circuit.)
And voters in 2020 overturned a Jim Crow-era law — rooted in the state’s racist 1890 constitutional convention — that enforced an Electoral College-style system and diluted Black Mississippians’ ability to shape statewide races.
Activists framed the contest mostly as a chance to repudiate Mississippi’s conservative power structure and open a new chapter in the state’s political history.
“I think if there is a major change during this year’s gubernatorial race, that will re-energize folks and get them more optimistic about what the possibilities are going into 2024,” Carol Blackmon, the Mississippi state organizer for Black Voters Matter, told USA Today.
Virginia legislative elections (Nov. 7)
Which seats? All 40 Senate districts and all 100 House districts were up for election. Democrats retained their majority in the former and gained control of the latter.
What was at stake? Republicans failed to secure a trifecta status, or when one political party holds the governorship as well as most of the seats in the state legislature’s two chambers.
This means that Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin can go only so far with his agenda.
Since assuming office in 2022, Youngkin has railed against the teaching of critical race theory and other “divisive concepts” in Virginia classrooms, pushed back against transgender-inclusive policies, and been embroiled in a controversy over the improper removal of some 3,400 voters from state rolls.
Black parents in Virginia and beyond have been warning for years about the perils of promoting incomplete history.
“This is a way for them to stop, or try to prevent the schools from actually teaching and practicing equity, diversity and inclusion across the schools,” Monica Hutchinson told CNN in 2021. “I hear a lot of white mothers say they think their child is too young to learn about racism. You know what, my child’s not too young to experience it.”
Ohio abortion ballot measure (Nov. 7)
What was on the ballot? Ohioans voted to enshrine abortion access in the state. Known as Issue 1, the measure approves a constitutional amendment that guarantees the right for everyone to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” including on abortion.
What was at stake? Had Issue 1 been defeated, there could’ve been major consequences for Black women in the state, who are 2½ times more likely to die from pregnancy-related challenges than their white counterparts, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
This disparity is consistent with a broader racial reality: Black families, as The New York Times noted in February, “have the worst childbirth outcomes in the United States,” regardless of their socioeconomic status.
But advocates were cautiously optimistic about the vote and the future of abortion rights organizing. In August, Ohioans rejected a measure that would’ve made it more difficult to change the state constitution. The Republican-led effort was an attempt to limit direct democracy ahead of Tuesday’s referendum.
“While we are fighting for our lives, we are also very clear on the way to organize,” Alencia Johnson, a political strategist and the former director of public engagement at Planned Parenthood, told The Grio.
“Some will say, well, you know, a Republican won here, [so] there’s no way that this issue could win, and yet Black women actually know how to organize in a very nuanced and coalition-building way that is inclusive of so many people,” she added.
This story has been updated.