Ballot Initiatives

Voters Used Ballot Initiatives To Defy Power-Mad Politicians

Tax hikes? Drug wars? Racial Preferences? Not today.

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Ballot initiatives are a mixed blessing. People can vote for some really stupid things, and people can reject important reforms. But they're also an important democratic tool, a way citizens can cut through the influence peddling that dominates state capitols across the country. When lawmakers serve entrenched interests, particularly in states where one party dominates, a ballot initiative is a way to reverse their bad conduct.

We wouldn't have the current trend toward drug legalization without ballot initiatives. We'd have much fewer criminal justice reforms. We probably wouldn't have legally recognized gay marriages.

On Tuesday night, in several states, voters used ballot initiatives and referendums to reject the best-laid plans of their political elite. And good for them! Here are some of the big highlights:

Illinois Rejects Tax Hike

Illinois' Democratic lawmakers, with the full support and encouragement of Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, voted in 2019 to change its income tax system from a flat tax of 4.95 percent to a graduated tax rate. Under the new system, the state's poorer citizens would pay slightly less (very slightly—often less than $100 a year), while those with annual incomes of more than $250,000 would see dramatic increases, up to a nearly 8 percent marginal rate.

But Illinois couldn't implement the change without voter support, because the flat tax is written into the state's constitution. So Pritzker, party leaders, and state labor unions pushed hard for public support, calling this a "Fair Tax," spending millions of dollars to promote it, and telling citizens this change was key to fixing the state's massive debt and budget deficit problems.

On Tuesday, Illinois voters flatly rejected the change. With 98 percent of Illinois votes counted, 55 percent of voters have said no. The flat tax is going to stay.

Illinois citizens are already very highly taxed, and no doubt that contributed to the proposal's failure. But there was also the extremely deceptive way Pritzker was promoting the vote. Illinois voters weren't actually voting on whether to implement the governor's "Fair Tax." They were voting on whether to give lawmakers the authority to implement a graduated tax, period. The new rates Pritzker touted were not set in stone; future legislators would be free to jack those rates up further. Whatever little savings the average taxpayer might get in the short term could very quickly be wiped out.

Pritzker's group, Vote Yes for Fairness, was defiant about the loss, blaming the state's problems (overspending and a failure to properly fund pension systems) on the rich. The group's chairman, Quentin Fulks, put out a statement pretty much yelling at the voters:

Illinois is in a massive budget crisis due to years of a tax system that has protected millionaires and billionaires at the expense of our working families, a crisis that was only made worse by the Coronavirus pandemic. Now lawmakers must address a multi-billion-dollar budget gap without the ability to ask the wealthy to pay their fair share. Fair Tax opponents must answer for whatever comes next.

In fact, Chicago's richest have been fleeing the state and moving elsewhere.

Arizona and Mississippi Embrace Marijuana

In one sense, every time drugs are decriminalized or legalized via ballot initiative the voters are defying their elected officials. After all, legislators could actually do it themselves. Heck, New Jersey lawmakers put the decision to legalize recreational marijuana to the voters via a referendum Tuesday because they couldn't get their act together to pass a statute.

But Mississippi's vote on medical marijuana and Arizona's vote on recreational marijuana show some additional defiance.

In Mississippi, supporters of medical marijuana gathered more than 214,000 signatures to get their initiative on the ballot. Mississippi has an indirect path for ballot initiatives that sends them to the state legislature before being put on the ballot. Lawmakers can choose to adopt or reject the measure at that point, but this doesn't stop it from appearing on the ballot. In Mississippi, there's also a third option: Lawmakers can propose an alternative version of the measure and put that before voters as well.

That's exactly what happened in Mississippi. The ballot measure that circulated legalized medical marijuana for a list of debilitating medical conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, Crohn's disease, and HIV. This version was on the ballot as Initiative 65. The "alternative" put on the ballot by the legislature allowed medical marijuana use only by people with terminal conditions.

Mississippi voters roundly rejected lawmakers' proposed alternative. With 98 percent of the vote counted, voters overwhelmingly supported the broader version that allowed wider medical marijuana use, and it wasn't even close. Initiative 65 pulled in 74 percent of the vote.

Republican Mississippi governor Tate Reeves complained on Twitter in October that he is opposed to "efforts to make marijuana mainstream." The reality is that marijuana already is mainstream.

In Arizona, voters rejected legalization in 2016, and so the measure's success in 2020 reflects the shifting attitudes toward marijuana use. Especially since voters passed it in defiance of Gov. Doug Ducey and nearly every other Republican officerholder with any name recognition in the state. Its victory is a wholesale rejection of state leaders' paternalistic, prohibitionist attitude toward marijuana use.

Washington Voters Reject a Plastic Bag Tax

Earlier in the year, state legislators in Washington passed a ban on single-use plastic bags that would start on January 2021. The bill, S.B. 5323 also implements a "pass-through charge" on paper and reusable plastic bags that the stores provide customers, which the stores themselves would keep.

Washington state law requires that any law that raises taxes or implements new fees be sent to the voters as a nonbinding advisory question. And voters firmly rejected the state's plan, with a full 60 percent supporting S.B. 5323's repeal.

Since this is just an advisory vote, lawmakers are unfortunately under no obligation to repeal the bill. Washington voters regularly call for the repeal of tax increases, and their objections do not appear to matter much.

In California, Ballot Initiatives Replace Republican Opposition

In several states, a single party controls both the governor's office and the legislature. In California, control is so very firmly in the hands of the Democratic Party, thanks to a legislative supermajority, that it's pretty much the veto-wielding Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom's decision which bills become laws.

This week's election results show how, as unpredictable they may be, ballot initiatives can serve as an important check on such power. California voters rejected several policies that are strongly supported by Democratic leaders.

The biggest blow: Proposition 22 cut the legs out from A.B. 5, which all but eviscerated the freelancers' ability to work for themselves, requiring companies to employ private contractors and pay them a host of benefits. The purpose of A.B. 5 was to attack companies like Uber and Lyft and destroy the gig economy in the state, all in the service of union jobs. The legislation was so badly designed that it was hitting freelance writers, musicians, Realtors, language translators, and other independent workers. Lawmakers weakened A.B. 5, but kept the assault on rideshare and delivery drivers. So Uber, Lyft, and the like forced the matter onto the ballot as Proposition 22, asking voters to decide whether these drivers could remain freelancers.

In defiance of, well, the entire Democratic power structure (including former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris, and the technically independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders), voters in California supported Uber, Lyft, and their drivers. With all the ballots counted, Prop. 22 passed with 58 percent of the vote. Many of these same voters overwhelmingly supported Biden and Harris in the election, but they see the importance of letting people decide if they want to be freelance workers.

Another big hit against the California Democratic establishment was the failure of Proposition 16, which would have restored racial preferences in government institutions and college admissions. It had the support of the entire Democratic Party power structure in the state, but 56 percent voted no.

Again, that's good. A look at the current demographic make-up at California colleges shows that, even when affirmative action was prohibited, colleges have been doing a better job of improving diversity at college campuses. They are no longer overwhelmingly white, and the end result of Prop. 16 would have likely pit different minority groups against each other (and especially against Asian-American students).

Though it hasn't been called yet, Proposition 15, which would update the state constitution so that the state could increase taxes on commercial and industrial properties, is losing. Prop. 15 would undercut the tax assessment limits put into place in 1978 by Proposition 13. Reversing or ending Prop. 13 has long been a goal for Democrats, and Prop. 15 was heavily supported by the party (again, including Biden, Harris, and Sanders) and a host of unions and activist groups. But where the vote stands now, 51 percent are opposed to the change. California voters, like Illinois voters, can only take so much taxation.

Finally we have the somewhat more complex failure of Proposition 25, which would have ended the use of cash bail, turned to risk assessment systems, and released low-risk defendants without money demands while those deemed dangerous or flight risks are held in pretrial detention. Reducing the dependence on cash bail is a goal of criminal justice reformers. Demands of cash bail hit poorer defendants harder, often forcing them to accept bad plea deals and get harsher punishments. It often ends up punishing low-level offenders before they're even convicted.

California lawmakers passed S.B. 10 in 2018 to eliminate cash bail, but the bail bond industry fought back and forced it onto a ballot referendum as Prop. 25. About 55 percent voted against it.

While it's easy to imagine the bail bond industry using fearmongering campaigns about out-of-control crime to fight the reforms (as they have elsewhere), the reality of S.B. 10 and Prop. 25 is a lot more complicated. Civil rights and criminal justice reform groups were part of the process of crafting S.B. 10, but at the last minute the legislation was changed to give judges more leeway and control over deciding when a defendant could be held—without any bail and therefore without any way to be free at all. This caused great concern that as implemented, S.B. 10 could actually result in more people being stuck in pretrial detention, not less.

So civil liberties groups turned their backs on S.B. 10 and ultimately Prop. 25. The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California ended up on the same side as the American Bail Coalition. All that was mostly left to support Prop. 25 was, again, the Democratic Party power structure. That wasn't enough.

NEXT: Think Jo Jorgensen Is a Spoiler? Run These Numbers First

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  1. Since this is just an advisory vote, lawmakers are unfortunately under no obligation to repeal the bill. Washington voters regularly call for the repeal of tax increases, and their objections do not appear to matter much.

    I’ve lost track of the number of anti-tax (and anti-establishment) initiatives that have been overwhelmingly passed which have been defied by the politicians. Only ONCE did I ever see any consequences which arguably resulted in Tom Foley being ousted from his seat, which was something like the first time in eleventy million years that a sitting speaker of the house got his ass kicked out of office, after suing the citizens of the state of Washington to reverse term limits.

    The incumbent Speaker of the House, Democrat Tom Foley, lost reelection in his district, becoming the first sitting Speaker to do so since Galusha Grow in 1863.

    1. $30 tabs anyone?

      1. pfft, that’s been bounced so many times by the state after being resoundingly passed that I’ve lost count.

        1. And yet, that clown Jay Inslee has been relected to a third term with 60% of the vote. Asshats like Inslee and Bob Ferguson just round-file the initiatives they don’t like and there are precisely zero political repercussions from it. So why not?

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          1. Seems like the ballot box really isn’t an option anymore

            1. Frederick Douglass said:

              “There are four boxes to be used in the defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury, and ammo. Please use in that order.”

            2. Do you live in Washington state? Perhaps Inslee is the representation they want? Though I don’t understand it either.

              More and more it is looking like there is simply an unbridgeable chasm between the America that wishes to be left alone, and the America that champions social justice.

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      1. Well as the aborters say “My body my choice”. Same goes for masks

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  2. Even Californians reject affirmative action and the war on the gig economy.

    It’s almost as if there’s a huge disconnect between the media, democrat politicians, and reality.

    1. California is the platonic ideal of a party machine state. It’s what happens when the government is able to operate with the fig leaf of a democratic process, but is under total capture from special interests, essentially ham-stringing the democratic process.

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    2. a huge disconnect

      Its called Twitter.

    3. If there’s one thing California parents can agree on, it’s to not make getting into a good college harder for their kids.

      1. That, and also, black and Hispanic kids who would have gotten in anyway get tired of getting falsely accused of only being admitted because of affirimite action.

        I wonder what the percentage by race on the ballot is. Probabbly not as overwhelming as many people think.

  3. People can also use ballot initiatives to dictate and steal from other people. That’s why we have a constitutional republic. In theory a mob of citizens can’t get together and vote away your rights hence the term inalienable. Of cource this is now all academic as people have no problem violating other people’s rights, and there is no opt out.

    1. You know this got me thinking. What if ballot initiatives were just limited to repealing laws? Special interests will always win with politicians, because they will single issue vote. But if the laws were put to the masses they would likely be over turned.

      A people’s veto seems like one of the least destructive and most beneficial form of mob rule.

      1. That’s an interesting idea. I am not sure how many laws would actually be overturned like this, but more than 0 would be a good start

      2. That’s called a ballot referendum. Technically an initiative creates a new law and a referendum repeals one.

        1. I’d like a referendum on Florida’s “fuck me like california” initiatives.

      3. I would prefer a constitutional amendment adding a sunset clause to all new and existing laws. That would keep the bastards busy.

      4. What if ballot initiatives were national?
        Would people vote to scuttle the multi-trillion-dollar Green Raw Deal, or to implement it?
        Would they vote to hike taxes? Even in liberal states like California and Washington, voters never vote to raise their own taxes (except by passing bond measures, which they think are free money)

        1. What about national referendum on background checks for gun purchases, gun purchase waiting periods, or gun registration? Some of these have considerable popular support.

  4. While true these victories are temporary. Consider the vote to ratify the EU constitution. It was rejected by a number of countries all of whom rescheduled votes until they got the answer they wanted.

    Race preferences lost by less than 10 points. Every single institution in the state supported it. It will be back on the ballot or overridden by the courts within a decade.

  5. I am disappointed that Florida approved a $15 / hour minimum wage. How did that happen? Did billionaires like Reason.com’s benefactor Charles Koch not spend enough on ads opposing it?

    #AbolishTheMinimumWage
    #BillionairesKnowBest

    1. New Yorkers fleeing high taxes (and freezing temps) still want higher prices, it seems. Not to mention all those lovely payroll taxes that will flow in from the two workers that keep both their job and their number of hours.

    2. Yeah, I voted against it, but…

    3. We also voted yes to the referenced california stupidity in the main post!

      I am so angry at both those. If I hadn’t been involved in moving, I would have campaigned against both of those.

  6. So Uber, Lyft, and the like forced the matter onto the ballot as Proposition 22

    So, literally, corporations had to engage in the political process so that the will of the people could triumph over democrat politicians.

    Hey, local democrats: let that sink in.

  7. Illinois is in a massive budget crisis due to years of a tax system that has protected millionaires and billionaires at the expense of our working families, a crisis that was only made worse by the Coronavirus pandemic.

    “Made worse by government’s overreaction to the Coronavirus pandemic” is what you meant to say, right?

  8. For what it’s worth, there’s a guy in Humboldt County that supports his drug hobby by breaking into unoccupied vehicles. He gets arrested, booked, and released in about four hours. Twelve times in five months. Wouldn’t want him to get the Covid, would we?
    A broken car window replacement is around $200-300. He only gets caught some of the time. The lesson for other low-level criminals is clear.

    1. Why do you want an innocent man (yes, I assumed his gender) locked up before his day in court?

  9. even when affirmative action was prohibited, colleges have been doing a better job of improving diversity at college campuses.

    I wonder what this would look like if wriitten by a libertarian? Because a libertarian would recognize both the constitutional and moral authority of the state is not to rig admissions with the goal of a diverse campus, but to preside over a campus accessible to an equally protected population.

    1. the state shouldn’t be involved in colleges at all. let them admit who they want.

  10. So exactly who is still affected by AB5, now that damn near ever class of independent contractor is exempt?

  11. Look at Colorado for instance. Now it’s all democrat, and likely they will try everything to get rid of the taxpayer bill of rights they’ve had for nearly 3 decades. Probably go to ranked choice to eliminate the last of the republicans. It will be California before you know it (may already be there).

    1. True, but Colorado voters did approve an income tax rate decrease.

  12. OT: Can’t verify the accuracy of all this but I mean come on . . . They should audit the fuck out of all these states. What a shitshow.

    “Something Smells Fishy About the Vote Counts”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUi-CIwjESY

    1. That video about the tallies not comporting with Benford’s Law? See, https://mobile.twitter.com/statsguyphd/status/1324352213595181059

      Interesting if true. I certainly don’t know enough Statistics to confirm or deny.

      1. Very interesting. Yea that’s way out of my league, I couldn’t possibly comment.
        I’m guessing there are ‘official’ people running this kind of analysis too right ? Hopefully there’s a legitimate chance to prove if / what kind of shenanigans are going, not that I have much hope that anything will come of it at this point. Skeptical of everything that’s going on rn, which let’s face it, is probably by design.

  13. “Now lawmakers must address a multi-billion-dollar budget gap without the ability to ask the wealthy to pay their fair share.”

    So many dysphemisms… “ask” “fair share”

    So glad I left that shithole years back. “Illinois… leave for the weather. Stay [away] for the corrupt asshat government.”

  14. The article says that by rejecting the proposition, “voters in California supported Uber, Lyft, and their drivers.” The rejection of the proposition supported the companies, but not the drivers. The rejection of this measure means that drivers will continue to have to pay for gas and repairs without compensation, while being paid very little for driving. It is not wise economic policy to have full time workers grossly underpaid. It is even worse when done by redefinitions, categorizing de facto employees as independent contractors when they have almost none of the characteristics of actual independent contractors.

    1. Measure 22 supported the drivers and was supported by 80% of them. Without it, they wouldn’t be able to work for Uber or Lyft at all, since they would have shut down California operations.

      1. word. i always get a kick out of these busybodies who feel the need to ‘protect’ workers right out of a job.

    2. “It is not wise economic policy to have full time workers grossly underpaid. ”

      Why the fuck not? Are the workers prohibited from seeking other employment? Are they still working for the enterprise? If so, then I guess they’re not grossly underpaid then.

      Butt the fuck out of what two adults decide to contract between themselves.

    3. they have almost none of the characteristics of actual independent contractors.

      Stupid lie is stupid. Uber and Lyft drivers can go on an off work wherever they choose, and decide for themselves where they want to work. Uber is their agent, not their employer.

      -jcr

  15. yay people in Arizona now get taxed for their weed. write about the fraud.

  16. Cash bail has been an important protection against government tyranny for centuries. Even California voters aren’t gullible enough to do away with that.

    1. LOL. Watch. This may have failed, but I am seeing some judicial interference in the near future.

  17. A fraud is being perpetuated on the American people. Are you guys gonna talk about this or not?

    It’s bananas votes are still being counted. All these BS ‘rules’ Democrat states wrote in are they even fricken CONSTITUTIONAL?

    Da heck?

  18. No mention of Oregon decriminalizing all drugs (in low volume with no intent to distribute) and voting for medical shrooms?

    1. They covered it in the morning. Yay?

      The United States might be now resembling a banana republic, but at least one state government says you can eat shrooms under supervision.

      What the fuck…

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  20. One of the main purposes of Prop 15 was to backfill the deficit of the State pension system. State pensions are probably the most generous in the Nation. State workers have given themselves raises so now, over 80,000 CALPERS pensioners get over 100k per year. I know many that get $14,000 a month. The highest CALPERS pensioner gets over $418,600 per year (Curtis Ishii). You can even look him up on Google. Many get from 200-350k per year. You can see the outrageous salaries and pensions at http://www.transparentcalifornia.com

  21. Representative government was required when it took days by horse to travel to Washington but less needed now. Have to consider ways to transfer more legal decision making to voters instead of concentrating power to politicians with questionable allegiances.

    At least voters will have no excuses for the laws they pass.

  22. I hate to be **that guy**. But, FL voters did vote to increase their minimum wage to $15/hr (likely in definance of their elected officals) So, not the perfect sweep of voters overturning big government from the bottom.

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  24. I like to see Wisconsin get something like California. Our legislature seems very reluctant to address popular measures. These include marijuana reform, increases in beer and gas taxes, and non partisan redistricting.

  25. Lawmakers hate like this loss of power and are making voter referendums harder to get.

    Republican power grab:

    https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/434309-gop-legislators-clamp-down-on-voter-initiatives

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