KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE
— Quietly, 2020 is proving to be a major year for ballot measures, with 120 on statewide ballots. In this article, we’ll look at 70 with the potential to have a significant policy impact.
— Some of the most numerous this year are related to elections and voting. They include changes to how primaries are run, as well as ranked-choice voting and redistricting.
— In addition to topics often seen on ballots such as taxes, education, and health, this year’s measures include some on hot-button issues, including guns, affirmative action, and labor policy.
2020: A banner year for ballot measures
Voters may be exhausted from following the marquee races of the 2020 election, but there’s actually quite a lot going on further down the ballot, with initiatives and referenda.
According to the indispensable database at Ballotpedia, voters in 32 states will decide 120 statewide ballot measures on Nov. 3. In this article, we’ve collected some 70 of the most notable and provided brief explanations of each.
One of the most popular topics for ballot measures this year (and likely the ones most interesting to the Crystal Ball’s readership) are related to elections and governance. They range from top-two primaries to ranked-choice voting to redistricting.
Marijuana is another major topic on ballots, both for medical and recreational use. And both Oregon and Washington, D.C., are asking voters whether the use of “magic mushrooms” should be easier.
Other hot-button issues on ballots this fall include an affirmative action measure in California, abortion-related measures in Louisiana and Colorado, and several criminal-justice measures across the country. Other states will be addressing labor rules for rideshare companies, a minimum wage hike, rent control, and payday loan regulation.
Here’s a rundown of major measures on the ballot on Nov. 3.
ELECTIONS AND GOVERNANCE
A measure in Alaska, Ballot Measure 2, would make several changes to the state’s election system, including replacing partisan primaries with open, top-four primaries for state executive, state legislative, and congressional offices; using ranked-choice voting for general elections, including the presidential race; and more complete disclosure for certain types of campaign donations. Many members of the state’s majority Republican Party oppose the measure, though in this famously independent state, there is some inter-party crossover. A poll by supporters of the measure found 59% planning to vote yes.
In Ballot Measure 2, Mississippi voters will be asked whether to eliminate the state’s Electoral College-like system for electing the governor and other state officials. Under the current system, the winner must also prevail in a majority of the state’s 122 state House districts or else the final choice of a winner is thrown to the state House. The provision is widely seen as a burden on minority voters. The measure now on the ballot would institute a runoff if no candidate receives a majority vote in the general election.
In Florida Amendment 3, voters will consider an open, top-two primary system for state legislative races and the contests for governor, attorney general, chief financial officer, and commissioner of agriculture. A St. Pete Polls survey found 46% support, 35% opposition, and 19% undecided.
In Proposition 113, Colorado will consider joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, under which states would give their electoral votes to the popular winner of the presidential race, with the pact becoming effective if states with at least 270 Electoral College votes approve the compact. In general, Democrats support the measure and Republicans oppose it. The proposal has been enacted by states representing 196 electoral votes, so it needs 74 electoral votes more to take effect.
In California Proposition 17, voters will consider a measure to allow people on parole for felonies to vote. The measure has broad support among Democrats.
Two states, Colorado (Amendment 76) and Florida (Amendment 1), will consider similar measures to amend the state constitution to say that only citizens can vote in the state. Since that is already the rule for federal and state offices across the country, Democrats and liberal groups oppose the measure, saying it’s unnecessary. The way the Colorado measure is written, it would also overturn the current rule that 17-year-olds could vote in primaries for which they’ll be eligible to vote in the general election.
California, meanwhile, would expand voter participation. It has Proposition 18 on the ballot to ensure that 17-year-olds can vote in primaries if they turn 18 by the general election.
With Issue 2, Arkansas voters will weigh easing current term limits. The measure would have a 12-consecutive-year term limit for state legislators, but they would be allowed to run again after a four-year break.
Voters in Missouri will consider Amendment 1, which sets a two-term limit for the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state auditor, and attorney general. They would join the positions of governor and state treasurer, which already have two-term limits.
Missouri voters will also consider Amendment 3, a measure proposed by the legislature that would water down a 2018 initiative passed by voters on redistricting. The measure would overturn the creation of a nonpartisan state demographer for legislative redistricting and change the map-drawing criteria, among other changes.
In another redistricting measure, Virginia’s Question 1, voters will consider shifting the power to draw congressional and legislative district lines from the legislature to a commission. Democrats appear torn on the issue; some think it doesn’t go far enough to insulate map-drawing from legislators — but Democrats also took control of state government in 2019, so if the ballot issue fails, they’ll control the process next year.
Meanwhile, New Jersey’s Question 3 asks voters to bless delaying the legislative redistricting process if the 2020 Census is late, a possible outcome due to difficulties conducting it during a pandemic. The current state legislative districts would remain through 2023 if that happens. Democrats are generally for the measure and Republicans are generally against it.
In Oregon, voters will consider Measure 107, which authorizes the legislature and local governments to enact limits on campaign contributions and expenditures, along with disclosure requirements and rules that mandate disclosures of who paid for political advertisements. Most leading Democrats and election reform groups are for it.
Several states are considering ballot measures about ballot measures.
Amendment 4 in Florida would require voter-approved constitutional amendments to be passed in a second general election before taking effect. The League of Women Voters is against the measure. A St. Pete Polls survey found 44% support, 31% opposition, and 25% undecided.
A pair of Montana measures, questions C-46 and C-47, would clarify confusing language in the state constitution regarding distribution requirements for signature collection for two types of ballot questions.
In North Dakota, Measure 2 would require successful constitutional amendments to be submitted to the legislature for approval, and if rejected, be passed by the voters for a second time in order to be enacted. Supporters say this is designed to counter out-of-state interest groups, but critics call it a legislative power grab. Members of the state’s dominant Republican Party are for it (except for Gov. Doug Burgum, who’s neutral), and Democrats and election reform groups are against it.
Voters in Iowa will be asked whether to initiate a state constitutional convention, something that last occurred in 1857; similar proposals have gone down to defeat the last five times they have been offered. No state has held a constitutional convention since Rhode Island voters approved one in the 1980s.
TAXES AND BUDGET
Arizona voters will be asked in Proposition 208 whether to tax incomes above $250,000 (for single filers) and $500,000 (for joint filers) at 3.5% in addition to the existing tax of 4.5%. The proceeds would fund education. Generally, Democratic officials support the measure and Republicans do not. A Suffolk University/USA Today poll in September found 47% support from likely voters, 37% opposition, and 15% undecided.
With Issue 1, voters in Arkansas will be asked to continue a 0.5% sales tax that would otherwise expire in 2023. The revenue would be spent on highways, roads, and bridges. The measure has broad support, including from Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, though some environmentalists believe it would promote too much development.
California voters will weigh two tax measures. One, Proposition 15, would require commercial and industrial properties, except for agricultural properties, to be taxed based on their market value, rather than on their purchase price. The second, Proposition 19, addresses the rules for home tax assessments, with any additional revenue from the change set aside for wildfire response. In both cases, top Democrats support the measure, while business and anti-tax groups oppose it.
Colorado voters will consider four tax-related measures.
One, Proposition EE, would create a tax on e-cigarettes and raise existing tobacco taxes, with revenues dedicated to health and education. It is supported by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis. Another, Proposition 116, is supported by Republicans and would cut the state income tax from 4.63% to 4.55%. A third, Proposition 117, would limit fees charged by state enterprises such as the lottery and parks. And a fourth, Amendment B, would repeal a constitutional amendment that has effectively reduced property tax assessment rates in the state constitution from 21% to 7.15% in recent years.
Another tobacco tax is on the ballot in Oregon, Measure 108; voters will weigh whether to increase tobacco and e-cigarette taxes, with the revenues funding health care programs. Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, along with some other Democrats and Republicans, support the measure; anti-tax advocates oppose it.
Illinois voters will consider repealing a constitutional requirement that the state personal income tax be a flat rate; passage would allow lawmakers to enact a graduated income tax. Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other top Democrats are in favor, while many Republicans are against.
With Amendment 2, voters in Louisiana will weigh whether to take into account the presence of oil or gas when determining the value of oil or gas wells for tax purposes. The effect would be for productive wells to be taxed more heavily and less productive wells taxed more lightly. The oil industry is in favor of the measure.
And in Washington state, voters will advise the legislature on several tax issues, including Advisory Vote 32, which addresses whether to keep a bill that taxes carryout bags.
MARIJUANA AND OTHER DRUGS
In Proposition 207, Arizona voters will weigh whether to legalize, tax, and regulate recreational marijuana. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and various law enforcement groups are against it. An OH Predictive Insights poll in September found the measure’s support and opposition to be neck and neck.
Montana voters will consider two related measures, CI-118 and I-190, on whether to legalize recreational marijuana. The two candidates for the open gubernatorial seat are split on the measures, with Democrat Mike Cooney supporting them and Republican Greg Gianforte opposing them.
In New Jersey Question 1, voters will weigh whether to legalize recreational marijuana. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and other top Democrats support the measure, and it has polled strongly in recent months.
In Mississippi, voters will consider three related measures on legalizing medical marijuana (Measure 1, Initiative 65, and Alternative 65A). Former Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has expressed his opposition.
Another state considering a medical marijuana question is South Dakota, with Measure 26. The measure is opposed by the South Dakota State Medical Association. Voters there will also consider a more sweeping measure, Constitutional Amendment A, which would legalize recreational marijuana. Business groups are opposed to the latter measure, but both measures appear to be polling strongly.
Oregon, which legalized recreational marijuana years ago, is considering whether to cross the next frontier by allowing the regulated medical use of psilocybin, a hallucinogen sometimes called “magic mushrooms.” Some evidence exists that the chemical could have positive effects for patients with mental health issues. Democrats including Rep. Earl Blumenauer support Measure 109, while the American Psychiatric Association opposes it.
Voters in Oregon will also consider Measure 110, which would decriminalize certain other drugs and use the law-enforcement savings to fund drug-addiction treatment.
Washington, D.C., voters will consider Initiative 81, which directs police to put the lowest priorities on the non-commercial cultivation, distribution, possession, and use of psilocybin and similar drugs.
California voters will consider Proposition 16, a measure to repeal Proposition 209 from 1996, which effectively outlawed affirmative action in public employment, public education, and public contracting. Top Democratic officials and liberal activists are in favor of the repeal, and many Republicans are against it. A Public Policy Institute of California poll in September found 31% support, 47% opposition, and 22% undecided on Proposition 16.
Abortion will be on the ballot in Colorado, where Proposition 115 would prohibit the procedure after 22 weeks.
Abortion will also be on the ballot in Louisiana. Amendment 1 would add language to the state Constitution that says “nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat but also an opponent of abortion, is in favor of the measure.
Montana voters will weigh in on guns with LR-130; it would bar local governments from regulating the carrying of permitted concealed weapons. The National Rifle Association is in favor of the measure, while Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, who is running for U.S. Senate, is against it.
Hunting is on the ballot in Utah, where voters will consider Amendment E, which establishes a constitutional right to hunt and fish in the state.
LAW ENFORCEMENT AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE
California voters will consider two measures on criminal justice issues.
One, Proposition 20, would add crimes to the list of violent felonies for which early parole is restricted, while also requiring DNA collection for certain misdemeanors. The measure is backed by GOP Rep. Devin Nunes and opposed by many Democrats, including former Gov. Jerry Brown.
The other one, Proposition 25, would enact an already-passed law that would replace cash bail with risk assessments. Gov. Gavin Newsom and other Democrats are in support of the measure, while the bail industry and some business groups are against it. A University of California-Berkeley Institute of Government Studies poll in September found 39% support, 32% opposition, and 29% undecided.
A measure in Oklahoma, Question 805, would prohibit using past non-violent felony convictions to impose enhanced sentences in new cases of non-violent felonies. The measure would also allow modifications for people serving sentences that had been enhanced based on past non-violent felony convictions. The American Civil Liberties Union is for the measure, while Gov. Kevin Stitt and other Republicans are against it.
Finally, Kentucky voters will decide whether their state will become the latest to enact a version of Marsy’s Law, which bolsters the rights of crime victims. Law enforcement groups back Amendment 1, while the ACLU is against it.
With Proposition 23, California will weigh a measure that would increase regulations on dialysis clinics. The Service Employees International Union is supporting the measure, while the dialysis industry opposes it.
California will also consider a measure, Proposition 14, to issue $5.5 billion in bonds to support a state stem cell research institute. Democratic officials generally support the measure.
And in Oklahoma Question 814, voters will consider whether to direct a share of tobacco settlement funds away from a trust where they’ve been placed historically and instead go toward funding the state’s Medicaid needs.
In New Mexico Bond Question C, voters will consider whether to issue $156.3 million in bonds for public education. The measure has bipartisan support.
Washington state Referendum 90 asks voters whether they want to allow a bill to take effect that requires public schools to provide comprehensive sex education, while allowing parents to request that their students be excused.
With Proposition 22, California voters will take up a measure to define drivers for app-based rideshare and delivery services as independent contractors. The measure would effectively overturn a bill passed by the legislature that set definitions for whether drivers for such services count as employees or independent contractors. Supporters of the measure include Uber, DoorDash, Instacart, Lyft, and Postmates. Opponents include top Democrats and labor unions. An August survey by the firm Redfield and Wilton found 41% support, 26% opposition, and 34% undecided.
In Colorado, voters will weigh Proposition 118, a measure to create a paid family and medical leave benefit featuring 12 weeks of paid leave, or as many as 16 weeks in certain cases. It would be funded by a payroll tax split between employers and employees.
And Florida Amendment 2 asks voters to raise the state’s minimum wage in steps to $15 an hour by September 2026. The measure is backed by prominent trial lawyer John Morgan as well as some labor unions; hotel and restaurant groups are against it. A St. Pete Polls survey found the measure with about 65% support.
Several states will consider measures on consumer privacy.
California voters will consider Proposition 24, which would expand the state’s data privacy laws, including the creation of a Privacy Protection Agency to enforce them. The measure follows a lengthy negotiation on a data-privacy bill that passed in 2018. Now, some supporters of an earlier initiative that inspired the bill have pushed for more stringent provisions; these are included in the measure currently facing voters. The measure has split liberals, with supporters including Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, and some unions and activist groups, but opponents including the ACLU, nurses, and some consumer organizations.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts voters will consider Question 1, a measure that requires computerized systems on cars to use a standardized platform that would allow vehicle owners and independent repair facilities to use. The independent automotive repair industry is in favor, while carmakers, who run their own repair shops through dealers, are generally opposed.
And in Michigan, voters will weigh Proposal 2, a measure to require search warrants to access electronic data.
California will consider Proposition 21, a measure to allow local governments to enact rent control on certain homes and units. Various liberal groups and unions are for it. However, Newsom has aligned with construction unions and developers in the opposition camp.
Colorado voters will consider whether to require the state to create a plan for reintroducing gray wolves in certain lands west of the continental divide by the end of 2023. Some environmental groups are in support of Proposition 114, while agricultural groups are opposed.
In Measure 3, Mississippi voters will consider whether to adopt a new state flag design that replaces one that included a rendering of the Confederate battle flag. Most Republican officials are supporting the new flag, though a few are against it.
Rhode Island voters will weigh Question 1, a measure to change the state’s official name by dropping “Providence Plantations.” The question was last taken up in 2010 when more than two-thirds of voters voted against it. However, since then, language that evokes slavery has become a more salient issue, especially this year amid racial justice protests. (In Rhode Island’s case, the term “plantation” doesn’t actually refer to historical slave plantations. However, the state did play a notable role in the slave trade.)
Finally, another constitutional language change will be on the ballot in Utah: Voters will be asked to approve gender-neutral terminology for the constitution, under Amendment A. Supporters say they are not aware of any significant opposition.
|Louis Jacobson is a Senior Columnist for Sabato’s Crystal Ball. He is also the senior correspondent at the fact-checking website PolitiFact and was senior author of the 2016, 2018, and 2020 editions of the Almanac of American Politics and a contributing writer for the 2000 and 2004 editions.