This year’s election season was as important as it was long. It felt both like a marathon and a sprint. November 3 brought significant victories both locally and nationwide, but for us in Louisiana, it didn’t end there. Many parishes also had a runoff election on December 5. Our VOTE family of organizers, canvassers, members, and partners kept energy high, and the results showed just how much our state was ready for change. Once we reached the finish line, our hard work paid off. Justice reform was on the ballot and justice reform WON.
This election season, two of our biggest wins were the people power we built and the progressive candidates we elected. Even through the physical separation of social distancing, our VOTE team was showing up. On Oct. 24, as part of the national “Justice Votes” day, VOTE rallied across the state to celebrate the formerly incarcerated communities' right to vote. In Shreveport, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans, we rallied, listened to speakers, and hit the polls as a family, showing what a true movement looks like.
Of course, we weren’t working alone. Throughout the season, we also partnered with Power Coalition for Equity and Justice (PCEJ) and Black Voters Matter. Combining our efforts to build power across the state resulted in huge voter turnout at the polls. In particular, Black voter registration and turnout reached a new height. We saw the results early on, too. Just two days into early voting, twice as many Black voters cast their ballot than at that point in 2016. By the end of the November election, we saw an increase in Black voters in nearly every parish since 2016.
Incarcerated leaders who we’ve been in close contact with during the pandemic also worked with us to get out the vote. They reached out to their loved ones on the outside about the importance of getting registered and voting. By building power from the inside out, we harked back to VOTE’s origin in the Angola Special Civic’s Project (ASCP). Our Executive Director Norris Henderson and his mentor and friend Biggy created a civic engagement club for both people sentenced to life in prison and non-lifers alike. They created roles and committees and appointed to different leaders (including Checo Yancy, current Policy Director for Voters Organized to Educate). Shortly after, they were writing bills and creating change to Louisiana politics from inside prison walls.
In the runoff election in December, New Orleans voted in a new progressive District Attorney (DA) and two new Juvenile Judges. Clint Smith and Ranord J. Darensburg won the judges’ races, and we have high hopes that they will change the way children are treated by the court system. Jason Williams is New Orleans’ DA-elect, and his victory cannot be understated. Among many other things, he has promised to: not try kids as adults, and implement restorative justice approaches for them whenever appropriate; provide alternatives to cash bail; work with federal authorities to aggressively pursue charges against any police officer or other official who hurts, lies or cheats in the name of the law, including previously dropped investigations; and review the accuracy of past convictions and sentences, including those who were convicted on non-unanimous juries in Orleans Parish, even if the outcome of Edwards v Vannoy does not mandate that non-unanimous juries should be reviewed.
Our Baton Rouge family had some major wins in the runoff as well, such as re-electing their first Black woman Mayor-President, Sharon Weston Broome. We believe she will continue to fight for change and bring true justice reform to the city. Baton Rouge citizens also elected new judges and Metro Council members, who will help Mayor Broome continue her work.
The best part about these major wins is that they create a feedback loop: the more people power we build—and the more people we get to the polls—the more recognition we gain as a voting block. Then, both current and future elected officials must listen and be accountable to us. The more visibility and recognition we gain as a voting block, the more we can encourage to join us. That is truly the power of the people.
Now that the fall elections are over, we’ll continue building momentum in other ways. For example, since voter registration happens all year round, we’ll still be spreading the word about Act 636 and educating people with convictions about the full power of their voice. Another one of our biggest jobs moving forward is holding our elected officials accountable. We’ll be paying attention not just to politicians’ words, but to their actions to make sure they line up with campaign promises. In some cases, we’ll even be advising them on the best way to fulfill those promises; earlier this month, our Executive Director, Norris Henderson, was named as a member of Jason Williams’ transition team, formed specifically to positively reform the DA’s role. Accountability is especially important as we gear up for the Louisiana legislative session, scheduled right now to start in April. We’re training up for the session in other ways, too, like holding more Vote Institute of Policy (VIP) courses for VOTE members. If these initiatives sound exciting and you want to learn how to get involved, send us an email at email@example.com or call us at 504-571-9599. We’ll connect with your closest VOTE chapter and more info on how to plugin.