Ballot Initiatives

It's Not Just About Marijuana: Other Initiatives on the Ballot This November

Voters will consider more than 150 proposals, not counting local votes.


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There are 163 statewide ballot initiatives that have been or will be considered by voters in 2016. A big chunk of them (but not all) are on the November ballot. In some states like Alabama, California, Colorado, South Dakota, and Washington, there are enough ballot initiatives to dominate the political discussion. Heck, for television watchers in California, the barrage of initiative advertisements may make it feel like there are no human beings on the ballot at all.

Reason writers have taken note of some of the initiatives across the country. Jacob Sullum has covered all the marijuana initiatives on the ballot in several states this fall. The Reason Foundation recently published a helpful guide to California's 17 initiatives. And I blogged last week about Maine's potential experiment in ranked choices for statewide and lawmaker elections.

But there's much, much more. As is typical, some ballot initiatives are designed to give citizens more liberty in the face of a state government unwilling or unable to act on its own. Some would create new rules and restrictions. Some others are pushed by certain interests, both government and private, to cash in on taxes and subsidies while convincing the public it's to serve them in some fashion. Here's some initiatives (and initiative categories) worth keeping an eye on in November:

Minimum Wages

Five states have minimum wage-related propositions on the ballot. Arizona's would increase the state's minimum wage incrementally to $12 per hour by 2020. The initiative would also mandate that private employers provide 40 hours of paid annual sick pay (24 hours for those with fewer than 15 employees).

Colorado's initiative would also increase the minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020, and then would tie future increases to the cost of living. It would also cap how much money from tips could count toward the minimum to $3.02 per hour. Maine's ballot initiative is also puts the minimum to $12 per hour by 2020 and slowly increases the minimum wage for workers who get tips until it's the same as other workers by 2024.

Washington State is proposing an even higher minimum wage by 2020, $13.50 an hour, and would also require employers to provide 40 paid hours of sick leave (and would also mandate that this sick leave roll over if not used in that year).

Bucking these trends (in a very modest fashion), South Dakota voters will be asked whether they want to keep a lower minimum wage for workers under the age of 18 ($7.50 an hour) and to make sure that wage is not pegged to inflation.

Death Penalty

California has two competing ballot initiatives on the death penalty. Prop. 62 would appeal its use, while Prop. 66 would speed up the process. The two ballot initiatives are in competition. If both somehow pass, the one with the most yes votes would "win."

In Nebraska, voters are being asked if they want to repeal a law passed in 2015 that eliminates the death penalty. It's one of those tricky referendums where voters must choose "retain" in order to keep the ban on the use of the death penalty, while voting for "repeal" would restore its use. It's easy to visualize some people thinking "repeal" means eliminating the death penalty. It's the opposite.

In Oklahoma, voters will be asked to decide whether to amend the state's constitution to guarantee that the state may be allowed to use capital punishment. Oklahoma has the death penalty, but courts have ordered their halt over some serious problems in the execution (pun not intended).

Charter Schools and Casinos

What do charter schools and casinos have in common? On the surface, not a lot, but when it comes to ballot initiatives, there's a similarity in that some states aren't willing to simply open up the marketplace to either and see what happens. Instead voters are being asked whether to support select additions.

In Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, voters are asked whether to approve very specific, targeted expansions to gambling operations to benefit particular interests who want to operate (or expand operations) in those states. These votes aren't really expanding the citizenry's right to gamble but rather giving a handful of connected people a piece of the highly regulated pie.

By the same token, Massachusetts residents are being asked whether they want to approve more charter schools, but only up to 12 of them. The state currently permits up to 120 schools (and actually is nowhere near that capacity right now). Yet this modest proposal has garnered the opposition by the usual suspects, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, under the complaint that it takes money away from public schools (because the money follows the student and therefore the schools aren't entitled to it, but never mind that). The bitter irony here is that the cap itself limits access to charter schools, often a complaint by those who fight against them. It's the government that is limiting access to charters and preventing student opportunity.

"Right to Work" Initiatives

Alabama, Virginia all have ballot initiatives on the books that would forbid any employers from requiring employees to join (or renounce) membership in a union or pay dues or fees as a condition of employment. Both of these states are already "right to work" states. These initiatives would add these rights to the states' constitutions.

Criminal Justice

Technically the marijuana and potential death penalty votes are criminal justice initiatives. But there are a few others as well.

California's Prop. 57 would increase parole opportunities for felons convicted of non-violent crimes and would give judges authority over whether to try juveniles as adults.

Colorado is asking voters whether to remove a provision in the state's constitution to allow convicted criminals to be used as forced labor while in prison. According to the Denver Post, prisons in Colorado don't actually use forced labor right now, and all programs are voluntary. This would be a symbolic gesture.

Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota voters will consider a "victims' rights" initiative that would add to the state constitution that victims must have their "welfare" considered when a criminal is being considered for bail or release and to be informed when the criminal is released or escapes, among other demands. All of these proposed amendments are based on Marsy's Law, first passed in California in 2006.

New Mexico is asking voters to consider a constitutional amendment that would require prosecutors to prove (with "clear and convincing evidence") that a defendant is a threat to the community or poses a flight risk in order to deny bail. It also provides that a person may not be denied bail solely because he or she is financially unable to afford to pay or provide a bond.

Oklahoma voters will consider reducing some current felonies to misdemeanors: drug possession and theft of property under $1,000. Drug manufacturing and dealing would remain felonies. A second initiative would take the money saved from prison costs by reducing the number of felons in prison under this change and reallocating it to a fund to rehabilitate prisoners.

Washington State voters will have the option of increasing the penalties for anybody convicted of consumer fraud or identity theft against "seniors" or those classified as "vulnerable individuals." But there's a plot twist in this seemingly simple legislation. This definition of "vulnerable individuals" includes people over the age of 60 who are receiving home care services. The law forbids disclosing contact information about these people via the Public Records Act.

This proposition is being pushed by Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The Freedom Foundation, a pro-liberty labor reform activist group, believes that the true purpose of this law is to stop people from tracking down and informing these "vulnerable individuals" of the results of the Harris v. Quinn Supreme Court ruling from 2014. This is the ruling that the states cannot simply classify that private home care workers are public employees and force them into unions. Freedom Foundation is literally sending people to the homes of these caregivers to let them know that they didn't have to pay union dues.

And the Rest …

There are, of course, tons of ballot initiatives related to bonds and taxes that we cannot possibly analyze (and you wouldn't read if we did). But there's a few other odd little initiatives worth looking at:

Colorado wants voters to consider a "right to die" initiative that would allow citizens to seek assisted death if they've been diagnosed with a terminal illness that gives them less than six months to live.

Massachusetts wants voters to consider banning the sale of eggs and meat from farm animals who are forced to live in extremely confined spaces. This law would apply to meat and eggs coming into Massachusetts from outside the state as well. Food columnist Baylen Linnekin previously warned that such a broad law is unconstitutional and that the state does not have the authority to control how livestock is cared for in other states.

Oklahoma is giving voters the chance to and an absurd liquor law and allow grocery stores and convenience stores to sell "strong" beer and wine. Currently liquor stores have a monopoly on the authority to sell stronger beers and all wines. Unsurprisingly, liquor stores are opposing the passage of this ballot initiative and the loss of their marketplace stranglehold.

South Dakota is asking voters whether members of the Democratic Party or the Republican Party should be allowed to sign petitions to nominate independent candidates to make the ballot. A ban would, of course, seriously hamper the ability for third-party options or alternatives, and is unsurprisingly supported by the state's House majority leader and ranking Republicans.

That's far from all the ballot initiatives under consideration. You can check out the full list here at Ballotpedia, helpfully categorized by state. Ballotpedia notes that 72 of the initiatives being voted on this year were citizen-pushed initiatives (rather than referendums from state legislatures). But overall, the number of initiatives under consideration in the states pales in comparison to 1998, when voters had 274 of them, the record so far.