I admit that over the past few days I have been gleefully whistling “Sweet Home Alabama” and listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s version at full volume.
Doug Jones’ victory over Roy Moore in the special Alabama Senate election came as a pleasant shock to me. I was so concerned that Moore was going to win that I refused to even watch or read the news that day. When my husband came home from teaching a class at a volunteer fire department and told me Jones had won, I thought he was joking.
I am not naive enough to believe this means that Democrats are going to retake control of Congress in 2018 as some political pundits claim, but I do see many positive signs based on the election results.
To understand the significance of the Jones victory, you have to fully look at voting in Alabama.
“Alabama has a long history of suppression of the voting of black and poor white citizens,” political science professor Jeremy Lewis told the U.S. News and World Report. Currently Alabama has some of the most restrictive voting laws in America, and in 2015 when the Center for American Progress Action Fund released a state-by-state assessment that looked at citizens’ access to the polls, legislative representation, and political influence, Alabama was rated dead last in protecting the democratic rights of citizens.
Those facts played a large part in determining the strategy of the Democratic Party in the Alabama election. Before this race, almost 75 percent of voters in Alabama were registered as Republican, and a large number who are poor and/or minority were not registered to vote, in part because of the difficult process needed to secure a required voter identification card. In the 2016 presidential race, Donald Trump got about twice as many votes as Hillary Clinton in Alabama, somewhat due to a very low turnout among young and minority voters. Alabama is often called “the reddest of all red states.”
So the Democratic plan was to register as many eligible voters as possible who would likely support Jones, and to get all registered Democrats to vote. That sometimes meant helping voters secure all the documents required for an Alabama voter ID card. It also meant reaching out to voters who had given up voting after years of watching every Alabama Democratic candidate soundly defeated and seeing many Republican candidates run unopposed.
Enough of those targeted voters showed up on Election Day to give Jones the victory by about 21,000 votes out of the nearly 1.3 million votes cast, winning 49.9 percent of the vote to Moore’s 48.4 There were also nearly 23,000 votes for write-in candidates, nearly all of them cast by Republicans. Much of that was most certainly caused by the allegations that Moore had behaved inappropriately with young girls when he was in his 30s.
As a Democrat, the most interesting aspect of the race was that both black women and young people who had not been voting in large numbers did so. The demographic of voters who elected Jones was overwhelmingly made up of people who are some combination of young, female, better educated, minority, and from suburban or urban areas. Moore’s supporters tended to be white, over 65, identify as Evangelical Christian, and live in rural areas. I am particularly excited that women and young people turned out in large numbers, and hope that trend, also evidenced in recent Virginia elections, spreads nationwide.
As a woman, I was relieved to see that a majority of voters refused to vote for an accused child molester. Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said it was, “Country over Party”, but I think that is a bit optimistic. Alabamians had a clear choice between two men: Doug Jones, a Democratic District Attorney most famous for successfully prosecuting two members of the Ku Klux Klan who bombed a church and killed four young African-American girls, and Roy Moore, a Republican who was twice removed as a judge for violating the U.S. Constitution and stands accused of molesting young girls. I find it discouraging that over 650,000 Alabama voters chose Moore.
As a Christian, I continue to be baffled by people who identify themselves as Evangelical Christians and support candidates like Moore. These are the same people who defend Roy Moore’s sexual misconduct while condemning Bill Clinton, and call Moore’s victims “liars” and “gold diggers,” yet claim all Clinton accusers are telling the truth. They say Donald Trump was “chosen by God” in 2016, but decry Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 as unjust. Their hypocrisy astounds me.
As an American, I still have faith that our country will in time be able to regain the status Ronald Reagan described when he said, “America is a shining light upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.” I believe Doug Jones’ election is a small step in that direction.
After all, if Alabama can elect a Democrat, anything is possible.
Patsy Sheppard, a St. Pauls resident, is a retired educator and active locally in the Democratic Party.