KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE
— In six states this November, voters will be asked to weigh in on statewide ballot measures.
— Four states contributed to our list of key measures this year: Colorado, Ohio, Maine, and Texas. More limited measures are on the ballot in Louisiana and New York.
— The key issues on the ballot in these states include abortion, recreational marijuana, taxes, and energy.
Key 2023 ballot issues
Voters in a handful of states across the country will find a range of ballot measures to vote on in 2023.
What follows is our rundown of the key measures on voters’ ballots this year based on tracking by Ballotpedia, our own research, and interviews with political experts in many of these states.
This roundup does not address every single issue on state ballots this year, but it does cover many of them (and the ones we found to be the most interesting from a national perspective). We’ve grouped them by topic.
The key issues on the ballot in these states include abortion, recreational marijuana, taxes, and energy. In Texas, voters will be asked to approve big, new investments in broadband, water infrastructure, and parkland.
As an off-year election, the number of statewide measures is relatively limited, and they are only appearing on ballots in six states. Four states contributed to our list of key measures this year: Colorado, Ohio, Maine, and Texas.
Two other states — Louisiana and New York — also have measures on the ballot in November, but they are generally on smaller-bore issues. Each of these six states save Louisiana will vote on their measures as part of the Nov. 7 ballot.
Louisiana voted on a handful of measures this past weekend as Gov.-elect Jeff Landry (R) impressively captured the governorship without having to face a November runoff, and there are a handful of other issues that will be on the runoff ballot. The most notable issue, which overwhelmingly passed on Saturday, prohibited foreign or private money from being used toward conducting elections. This ban, and others across the country, arose out of conservative complaints about election-related funding provided by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, during the 2020 election cycle. (Louisiana, interestingly, was one of just a few states where no jurisdictions accepted this funding, in part due to Landry’s intervention as state attorney general.)
Here’s the rundown.
This is probably the most closely watched ballot measure in the nation for November 2023.
Abortion has been a contentious issue in Ohio since the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade in 2022. Existing law makes abortion legal in Ohio through nearly 22 weeks of pregnancy, but the Republican-controlled legislature passed a law that would ban abortions at 6 weeks. Opponents sued, and the case continues to play out in the courts. So the new law is not yet in force.
Issue 1 would establish a state constitutional right to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” while allowing the state to restrict abortion after fetal viability, as was the case under Roe. The Republican and Democratic parties are on opposite sides of Issue 1, as are Republican Gov. Mike DeWine and Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is up for reelection in 2024.
Ohio voters already faced a shadow battle over abortion in August, when they were asked to weigh a different measure, also called Issue 1. This earlier measure would have raised the approval threshold for constitutional amendment ballot measures to 60%, up from 50%. While the earlier Issue 1 was not about abortion per se, it was widely seen as an effort by anti-abortion supporters to keep abortion-rights voters from approving a measure like the one on the November ballot, under the theory that abortion rights might be able to win 50% backing in Ohio, but not 60%. However, voters soundly rejected the August measure, 57%-43%, which represented a much stronger showing in Ohio than Democratic candidates have received in recent elections.
The August vote was just the latest in a string of ballot-box losses for anti-abortion advocates since Roe was overturned, including statewide measures in such red states as Kansas, Kentucky, and Montana in 2022. Aware of this pattern, opponents of Issue 1 have sought to shift the framing of the measure from abortion to parental rights, with ads suggesting that passage would let minors end pregnancies without parental permission and that it would leave parents with no say in “sex change surgery.” (This interpretation is not accepted by many legal scholars.)
Particularly given the results of the August vote, which kept the threshold for ballot measure approval in Ohio at 50%, even Republican observers say privately that abortion rights backers are in the driver’s seat for the November vote. A new Baldwin Wallace University Ohio Pulse poll showed this issue passing 58%-34%.
This measure would permit the recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 and over, allowing cultivation (including at home) as well as processing, sale, purchase, and possession. Sales would be taxed at 10%.
DeWine and many other Republicans oppose the measure. But Democrats have hedged somewhat: Unlike with the abortion measure, both the state party and Brown have not taken a position on the measure.
The presence of the abortion measure, with strong support from liberal-leaning and younger voters, could help push Issue 2 to a majority. But its prospects for passage are considered noticeably lower than that of the abortion measure. Another footnote: Even if it passes, Issue 2 would create a statute rather than a constitutional amendment, which would give the GOP-majority legislature opportunities to modify it. The aforementioned Baldwin Wallace poll, though, showed the marijuana issue doing essentially just as well as the abortion rights issue in Ohio, as it was leading 57%-35%.
This is one of two tax-related measures on the November ballot in 2023, and it’s the more controversial of the two. It stems from a law passed along partisan lines, signed by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, and backed by groups such as AARP. The measure is complex, making it hard for advocates to explain, and it has drawn increasing opposition not just from longstanding tax foes such as the National Federation of Independent Business but also from groups like the Colorado Municipal League.
The measure would increase the cap on tax collections by an estimated $170 million this year and $2.2 billion per year within a decade. Of this extra revenue — which under current law would have gone back to taxpayers as refunds — 20% would be used to support local governments for expected losses in property tax revenue, up to $20 million would go toward rental assistance, and the rest would be sent to school districts.
Despite Colorado’s increased Democratic leanings in recent elections, observers sense that the measure’s backers are on the defensive.
This measure addresses excess revenue from higher tobacco taxes approved by voters in 2020. Under Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights law, or TABOR, any excess tax revenues collected must be refunded, in this case to tobacco distributors and wholesalers. Proposition II would instead direct any excess revenues to preschool programs, which is where the rest of the tax revenues approved in 2020 already go.
Colorado’s preschool program serves 38,000 4-year-olds and 9,000 3-year-olds, Chalkbeat reported. Faced with a similar question in 2015 about excess marijuana tax revenue, voters easily passed the measure.
This measure has inspired minimal opposition, but any headwinds against HH could potentially rebound against Proposition II, if voters don’t take the time to scrutinize both carefully.
This is probably the highest-profile measure on Texas’s November 2023 ballot.
Proposition 4 would increase the homestead tax exemption — basically, the amount of home value that homeowners can shield from property taxes — from $40,000 to $100,000. The measure would send $7.1 billion to school districts to allow for lower property tax collections.
Proposition 4 is backed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Texas organizations representing small business, the building industry, and real estate professions. Since all ballot measures in Texas must receive two-thirds support in the state House and Senate before being approved for the ballot, Proposition 4, like the other measures on this year’s ballot, already has significant bipartisan support and is expected to pass.
This measure would prevent Texas from establishing a wealth tax. While some liberals have floated wealth taxes, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), no state has yet imposed one, and the notion of a red state like Texas enacting one seems far-fetched. Regardless, this measure would raise the bar higher by adding language to the state constitution forbidding it.
Question 3 is closely tied to a second measure, Question 1 (see below). Both address a controversial topic in recent years in Maine: electricity generation.
Question 3 would turn two existing for-profit electric providers in Maine — Central Maine Power and Versant — into a single, publicly owned utility called Pine Tree Power. It would be run by a 13-member board, with a 7-member majority elected by Maine voters. The company would be regulated by the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
The idea’s supporters include Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and the Sierra Club. They say that a publicly owned utility would help reduce rates, improve customer service, and heighten grid reliability.
However, the measure has aligned two groups more often at odds: the state’s AFL-CIO and the state Chamber of Commerce. They and others argue that the acquisition cost could reach $13.5 billion, putting Pine Tree Power in a debt hole from day one.
Legislation similar to the proposal on the ballot was approved by Maine’s Democratic-controlled legislature but vetoed by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who warned against “a patchwork of political promises rather than a methodical reformation of Maine’s complicated electricity transmission and distribution systems.”
The 2023 ballot measure follows voter approval of a 2021 ballot measure — the most expensive in Maine history — that banned the construction of a 145-mile transmission line that would have brought hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts. After the utilities that would have benefited from the line filed suit, a jury earlier this year unanimously decided to let the construction resume. If Question 3 passes in November, lawsuits could also delay the enactment of this year’s ballot measure.
Multiple observers in Maine said they consider passage of Question 3 to be a toss-up.
This measure would likely not exist if Question 3 was not on the ballot this year. Question 1 would require voter approval for certain state entities, including utilities, to incur more than $1 billion in debt.
The measure is being backed by Avangrid Inc., the parent of Central Maine Power, as well as the state Chamber of Commerce and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. It’s widely seen as a tool to hobble the Pine Tree Power movement if it manages to win voter approval. Backers of Pine Tree Power oppose it.
Like Question 3, observers consider this measure a toss-up.
This measure would create an energy fund to back the construction, maintenance, modernization, and operation of electric generating facilities, to the tune of $5 billion over the next two years. The biggest beneficiary would be natural gas power, which is seen as a hedge against weather-driven shortages of sun and wind that increasingly power Texas’s electricity generation.
The measure has strong support from oil and gas interests and other business groups, and is expected to pass.
This measure would enshrine in the state constitution a right to farming, ranching, timber production, horticulture, and wildlife management on owned or leased personal property. In effect, passage of the measure would make it harder for localities to regulate farming and ranching practices when they come into conflict with other interests.
The measure has strong backing from farming and ranching interests as well as from Texas’s Republican agriculture commissioner, Sid Miller. It is opposed by the Humane Society.
If the measure passes, Texas would become the third state after Missouri and North Dakota to adopt a right-to-farm constitutional amendment. Oklahoma voters have rejected a similar amendment.
This would create the Centennial Parks Conservation Fund, which would invest more than $1 billion in state parks. It should pass easily.
This would establish a Texas Water Fund with a $1 billion endowment administered by the Texas Water Development Board. The money would be used to improve Texas’s water infrastructure, including pipe work, desalination, and the treating of water used in oil and gas fracking. This measure should also pass easily.
This would create a $1.5 billion Broadband Infrastructure Fund to improve telecommunications access in the state. It is expected to pass easily.
This would ban direct or indirect spending on elections for state offices or ballot measures by foreign governments, including foreign governments that hold at least 5% of a company. Such restrictions already exist under federal law; Maine’s measure would expand them to state elections. If it passes, Maine would become the eighth state to enact such a measure.
This question is related to Maine’s two energy questions discussed earlier, because Central Maine Power is a subsidiary of Avangrid, which is owned by Iberdrola, based in Spain, and has the governments of Qatar and Norway as shareholders. In addition, Versant, the state’s other main electric utility, is a subsidiary of Enmax, which is owned by the Canadian city of Calgary. Also fresh in backers’ minds was the 2021 measure over the transmission line, in which the Quebec-based backers of the project spent heavily.
Rep. Jared Golden (D, ME-2) supports Question 2, while the utilities oppose it. So does the governor, Mills, who argued that passage could result in unintended consequences for Maine-based businesses.
This measure would allow individuals under a guardianship due to mental illness to be able to vote in elections for governor, senator, and representative.
This is the latest iteration in a long-running battle over implementing a federal court decision that allowed such residents to cast ballots. Two previous attempts to remove constitutional language barring such participation failed, in 1997 and 2000. This time, the question was approved by a two-thirds margin in each chamber of the legislature.
Its fate this year is uncertain.
Ballot measures about ballot measures
Unlike other recent efforts, especially in red states, to make it harder to use ballot measures to sidestep Republican legislatures, the two measures in this category this year are not considered especially controversial.
The first is Question 5, which would give state election officials more time to vet ballot measures and make sure they qualify. Its placement on the ballot follows a 2022 election in which the timing of petition filings forced officials to rush more than they thought prudent.
The measure has backing from legislators from both parties.
This would end the requirement that petition circulators for ballot measures be a resident of Maine. Like the guardianship question, this is designed to align the state constitution with a court decision that found the residency provision to infringe on the First Amendment.
This measure would confirm that vehicle owners and independent car repair shops can access information, tools, and software to repair vehicles, something critics say are sometimes hoarded by auto manufacturers.
Massachusetts voters approved a similar law in 2012 and a related measure in 2020, though the latter measure has been tied up in court.
Observers in the state say this measure has prompted large numbers of radio and television commercials and seems likely to pass.
This is one of the odder measures we’ve seen in recent years.
When Maine separated from Massachusetts prior to statehood in 1820, the two states negotiated an agreement that became part of the new Maine constitution. One section said that Maine would “assume and perform all the duties and obligations of this Commonwealth (Massachusetts), towards the Indians within said ‘District of Maine,’ whether the same arise from treaties, or otherwise.”
More than two centuries later, this language remains in Maine’s constitution — but in 1875, the legislature passed and voters approved a measure that barred three provisions, including the one about Indians, from inclusion in future printed copies of the state constitution. The reason for this was unclear, and it remains open to debate among historians today. Some say it’s evidence of Maine’s attempt to marginalize Native American claims, but others disagree.
Mills opposes Question 6’s bid to restore the language to printed copies of the constitution. She said the original language is binding, whether or not it can be found in printed copies of the constitution. Mills, who at times has clashed with tribes in her state, has called the effort to restore the language “a misguided attempt to right a historic wrong that never occurred.”
This measure has attracted little attention, observers say, so it’s unclear how likely it is to pass.
|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 newly released Almanac of American Politics 2024. He was senior author of the Almanac’s 2016, 2018, 2020, and 2022 editions and a contributing writer for the 2000 and 2004 editions.|