KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE
— Voters in several states will be deciding significant statewide ballot issues next week.
— The most notable issues deal with topics such as gaming, energy, taxes, and more. But the one with the most national import is in New York, where voters could give majority Democrats more power in redistricting.
The top statewide ballot issues
In this off-year election season, only two states have gubernatorial elections: New Jersey and Virginia. But a slightly wider array of states are giving voters an opportunity to vote on ballot measures.
The total number of ballot measures going to the voters this year is far smaller than it was a year ago, during a presidential election year.
Still, five states — Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, New York, and Texas — have notable measures on the ballot this fall, covering issues that range from taxation and gambling to the environment and voting access. (This rundown does not include municipal ballot measures.)
The following rundown includes thumbnail analyses of 14 ballot measures from these states that could have a noteworthy impact if passed on Election Night.
Colorado has two measures on the ballot, which have garnered only modest advertising and attention.
Proposition 119: This ballot measure spans education, taxation and marijuana policy. It would establish the Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress program, or LEAP, by increasing the recreational marijuana retail sales tax from 15% to 20%. (The tax increase would not apply to medical marijuana.) The proceeds would benefit after-school and tutoring programs for underserved youth. In addition to an estimated $137.6 million in new revenue from the tax increase, the measure would shift $22 million from the state land trust to fund the program.
Prop 119 has attracted bipartisan support, but it has also drawn opposition from the marijuana industry, which is concerned about the new taxes, and from groups that worry about its potential to allocate public money to private entities that run after-school programs and tutoring services. The Colorado Education Association supported the measure at first but is now officially neutral on it.
Proposition 120: This measure, backed by anti-tax groups, would reduce both the residential and non-residential property tax assessment rates, while authorizing the state to spend $25 million above its spending cap for five years rather than returning that money to taxpayers, as the law currently requires. The additional money would be earmarked for local governments to cover the costs of tax exemptions given to seniors, veterans, and others.
The measure was already complicated to explain, and became even more so after the state passed a law earlier this year — after the ballot language had been finalized — that would reduce the measure’s scope, potentially applying it only to hotels and lodgings. The legislative action makes it likely that the specifics of the proposition, even if it passes, would need to be hashed out in court. Given all these complications, observers say the measure is less likely to pass than the LEAP measure on the ballot.
Of the measures on the ballot in Maine, one has attracted by far the most money and attention: Question 1.
Question 1: This measure would block the construction of electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region and require a two-thirds vote of each state legislative chamber for high-impact electric transmission line projects, both in the future and retroactively.
The measure relates to a pitched battle for and against a project sought by Central Maine Power that would provide New England, and especially Massachusetts, with renewable electricity. The project, which would carry excess hydroelectric power from Canada, is currently under construction, but opponents are seeking to stop it from proceeding. The opposition includes some environmental groups, but they’ve been aided by energy companies that would be hurt by the added competition from the renewable energy the line would carry.
This measure has attracted tens of millions of dollars of spending in a small state, with the side opposing the measure spending more. Observers say the ads, on either side, have been confusing; a yes vote would stop the project and a no vote would continue it. The side in favor of the measure — that is, the side fighting the transmission line — has had a bit easier time explaining its case and may have an advantage going into the vote, experts say.
Question 2: This is a transportation bond issue that would approve $85 million for highways and bridges and an additional $15 million for rail, aviation, and port infrastructure. It has received little public attention, but considering historical outcomes for such measures in Maine, experts expect it to pass.
Question 3: This measure would insert a right to grow, produce, and harvest food into the state constitution. The measure was placed on the ballot by a bipartisan group of legislators who expressed concern about future threats to the farming sector.
However, the measure’s vague wording has left residents wondering what its practical impact would be today; observers say there’s been little public discussion to bring more clarity to the issue. Animal rights groups have come out against it, worrying that it could give farms free rein to abuse animals in the future, but some farm-industry groups, including the Maine Farm Bureau, have also registered their opposition, warning that the measure is too broad and could have unintended consequences.
In New Jersey’s statewide election this fall, voters will consider two measures, neither of which has received significant attention.
SCR 91: This measure would allow organizations that are permitted to hold raffles to keep proceeds from those raffles. Under current law, only groups supporting senior citizens and veterans’ groups can keep raffle proceeds.
This measure is seen as having a good chance of passing, since its beneficiaries are largely sympathetic to the public, including volunteer fire companies and rescue squads. The measure was placed on the ballot following unanimous votes by both chambers of the legislature.
SCR 133: This measure, which was approved by the legislature, would permit wagering on college sports held in New Jersey or involving a team from the state. New Jersey has allowed other types of sports betting in recent years, and doing so has produced noteworthy revenue streams for the state government.
But a Stockton University poll in September found 45% opposed, 40% in support, and 14% undecided, and that was actually a stronger result for the measure than one earlier poll had found. That indicates a tougher road to approval than for the raffle measure.
New York voters will face several measures related to elections, as well as one on environmental policy.
Proposal 1: This is the first of the election-related measures, and it deals primarily with redistricting. Among other things, the measure would cap the state Senate at 63 members; count people in prison as residing at their last place of residence rather than where they are incarcerated; speed up the timeline for redistricting plans by two weeks; reduce the minority party’s influence in a redistricting commission that was enacted in 2014; and change the vote threshold for redistricting from a supermajority to a simple majority, as long as one party controls both chambers of the legislature.
The proposal is backed by Democrats and opposed by Republicans. For decades, the redistricting process included both Democrats and Republicans, because the Democrats held the state Assembly while the Republicans controlled the state Senate, either outright or in partnership with renegade Democrats. Given that lineup, the two parties had to work together to get it done or courts had to get involved. That changed in 2018, when the Democrats took control of the state Senate. Now, Democratic legislators are pursuing this proposal, which would put more authority over redistricting in their hands. As the Crystal Ball noted in our New York redistricting preview, if Democratic legislators amend the redistricting drafts from the state commission, Proposal 1 would give them more breathing room when passing their own maps.
Proposal 1’s provision on incarcerated populations would count people from New York City as residing there, rather than in prison facilities located far upstate. Under the status quo, inmates bolster the population of small and often shrinking counties, increasing those locales’ political muscle even though the inmates cannot vote. On balance, Democrats would gain from this provision.
New York Common Cause and the New York Public Interest Research Group support the changes, but the New York League of Women Voters and Citizens Union oppose it. In an interview with Spectrum News, former GOP Rep. John Faso called the changes “a very cynical maneuver” by Democrats to “consolidate their power.”
Proposal 2: This measure would add a right to clean water, clean air, and a healthy environment to the state constitution. It is similar to provisions already on the books in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. New York’s measure is backed by environmental groups and was easily passed by the legislature. Some Republicans and business groups oppose it, arguing that it could encourage lawsuits.
Proposal 3: This measure would eliminate the requirement that eligible voters must register at least 10 days before an election, opening the door to same-day registration. New York, despite being a Democratic-leaning state, has had some election procedures on the books that were out of step with those in other blue states, and Proposal 3 would help change that. The proposal passed the legislature with strong Democratic support and Republican opposition.
Proposal 4: This measure, which would allow the legislature to enact no-excuse absentee voting, adds to the effort to make New York’s election laws more closely follow those of other Democratic-led states. During the coronavirus pandemic, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) broke with longstanding policy by issuing an emergency executive order to allow voters to request an absentee ballot if they were concerned about contracting the virus.
As a result, roughly 2 million voters in the state went on to cast absentee ballots in the presidential contest. Proposal 4 has received strong Democratic support, and groups such as Common Cause New York, Make the Road New York, and the N.Y. Civic Engagement Table are working to pass it. Republicans are generally opposed.
Three of the measures on the ballot in Texas have had relatively low profiles and seen only modest expenditures, but they are all expected to pass. All were referred to the ballot by passing the legislature by overwhelming margins.
Proposition 1: Texas, like New Jersey, has a raffle-related measure on the ballot this year. It would authorize foundations run by professional sports teams, including those sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association, to hold charitable raffles at rodeo venues. This would put rodeo groups on an equal footing with other pro sports team foundations, which were already able to do this.
Proposition 2: This measure would authorize counties to issue infrastructure bonds for blighted areas, except to build toll roads. Already, cities and towns have been able to do this since 1981; Proposition 2 would allow counties to do so as well. The measure received some backlash in the legislature among conservative Republicans who are opposed to big government, but the legislature still sent it to the ballot by a wide margin.
Proposition 3: This measure would prohibit limits on religious services. It follows controversies in Texas and elsewhere about public-health limits on religious services during the coronavirus pandemic. Of all the measures referred to the ballot by the legislature, this one received the most opposition from lawmakers, but it still passed by a wide margin, with only a fraction of liberal lawmakers voting against it.
|Louis Jacobson is a Senior Columnist for Sabato’s Crystal Ball. He is also the senior correspondent at the fact-checking website PolitiFact and is senior author of the Almanac of American Politics 2022. He was senior author of the Almanac’s 2016, 2018, and 2020 editions and a contributing writer for the 2000 and 2004 editions|