Amid a massive popular movement calling for sweeping changes to the status quo, discontented voters have a chance to “Occupy The Polls” today. There are several big elections and ballot measures to watch, which will offer the “Occupy” movement a chance to act on their political frustration, though it is unclear they will seize it. The outcome of these votes will indicate how effectively the protests can translate their anger into electoral action — and offer a preview of the climate for the 2012 races.
While some candidates — including San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos, who is running for mayor — have clearly aligned themselves with the “Occupy” movement, other elections will nonetheless indicate whether the protests have a strong political effect. As John Nichols of The Nation writes:
There are big issues, big races and big tests of the political potency of organized labor, social movements and progressive politics playing out this Tuesday, on the busiest election day of 2011. In some cases, voting offers an opportunity to make an affirmative statement on behalf of a change in priorities. In other cases, there are opportunities to push back against bad politics and bad policies. In still others, there are signals to be sent about the politics of 2012.
Several races in particular are worth watching today:
In Ohio, voters will have an opportunity to choose whether to implement Republican Governor John Kasich’s restrictions on collective bargaining for public employees. The issue has mobilized many throughout the state: Ohioan and columnist Connie Schultz writes that Kasich’s “war on public workers” has made him “the best community organizer in the state… for Democrats.”
In response to strict new voting laws in several states, Maine will have a referendum to overturn a law that bars voter registration on election day. Mississippi voters will also have a chance to speak out against voting restrictions, with a referendum on whether to require voter IDs.
Many consider the New Jersey state Senate races a gauge for Republican darling Governor Chris Christie’s popularity; if the GOP gains control of both houses of the State Legislature, it will signal informal approval of Christie’s agenda — which could strengthen the chances that Christie will secure the GOP vice presidential spot in 2012.
The controversial Arizona immigration law will face indirect voter scrutiny during Tuesday’s effort to recall State Senate President Russell Pearce, who wrote the much-criticized S.B. 1070.
Mississippi voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution to define a person as a fertilized egg, which would effectively ban all abortions and would have other drastic ramifications (including the potential to count fertilized eggs in population and voting surveys).
The special election to fill an open Iowa state Senate seat could shift the precarious Democratic control, which might jeopardize the current law allowing same-sex marriage.
And a few high-profile local elections, such as the sheriff races in San Francisco and Philadelphia, could result in progressive victories that would send a strong national message about voter preferences.
These ballot issues and elections offer the first real tests of the “Occupy” movement’s political reach — and the results will no doubt have an impact beyond individual cities and states.