Money May Have Mattered More in Michigan: Ballots & Boundaries


You’ve heard the cliches. It’s the mother’s milk of campaigns. It’s the original sin of politics. It’s more important than ideas.

As we considered takeaways from the ballot issues considered in this week’s election, the big money stood out. In Michigan, the cash was spent to focus attention on abortion access, and voters approved a constitutional amendment to preserve the right to make decisions on pregnancy.

In California, voters were inundated with commercials on multiple ballot topics before they said yes on the right to abortion, yes on arts funding, yes to upholding a ban on flavored tobacco, and no to sports betting and extra-taxing the rich.

More than 85% voted against an online sports gambling proposal (Proposition 27). More than 70% defeated a plan (Proposition 26) to keep sports wagering at the state’s tribal casinos. About 59% rejected a proposal (Proposition 30) to fund electric vehicle infrastructure with millionaire tax dollars.

“You have so many campaign ads that are misleading and confusing,” said Mary-Beth Moylan, a law professor at the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law. “People end up feeling like they’re not sure what the measure actually says, and so they do, I think, default to no.”

The grand total spent on all the ads for and against those three California initiatives: $187 million over the past year, according to political ad tracker AdImpact.

Of course the totals are nowhere near that high in states that aren’t 800 miles from end to end, and that have fewer media markets.

In Michigan, backers of its successful abortion rights ballot question (Proposal 3) raised over $46 million, according to the campaign finance tracker

For another successful Michigan ballot issue (Proposal 2), supporters raised $11.8 million, according to That one prohibits photo-ID requirements, requires state funding for both absentee ballot requests and voters’ return envelopes, mandates state-funded ballot drop-boxes, and prevents third-party post-election audits.

Also put this one in the spend-pretty-big-but-not-as-much-as-California column: Massachusetts community groups and labor unions raised $28 million to successfully convince voters that millionaires should be taxed an additional 4% to pay for education and transportation projects (Question 1).

“This is a one way trend, the numbers are only going to keep going up,” said Dan Schnur, a professor of political communication at several California universities. “After every election the losers are going to think that, if they just spent a little bit more, they could have pulled it off. And so the arms race continues.” — Tiffany Stecker

One More Result

The early-count trend held up and Montana did turn back an effort to restrict abortion rights.

The Associated Press today projected that the opposition would prevail. With 92% of the vote on the measure (Legislative Referendum 131) counted, 52.5% opposed requiring medical care be provided to infants who survive an attempted abortion.

Montana joins a growing the list of states to register their support for the procedure in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate a federal right to an abortion. Kentucky and Kansas also opposed anti-abortion ballot measures this year. — Zach C. Cohen

What We’re Still Watching

Balllot question vote-counting isn’t over.

In Colorado, the outcomes of a measure to sell wine at grocery stores is still too close to call, with unofficial results leaning toward defeat for the big spenders. Doordash Inc., Instacart, Target Corp., Whole Foods Market Inc., and other grocers. They spent close to $14 million to support Proposition 125 and an unsuccessful measure to allow booze delivery (Proposition 126), as did US Rep. David Trone (D-Md.), co-owner of Total Wine & More.

A $13 million campaign there seeking to relax liquor license limits also failed (Proposition 124). — Tiffany Stecker

Did You Catch Our Ballot Question Coverage?


With assistance from Zach C. Cohen and Alex Ebert

To contact the reporter on this story: Tiffany Stecker in Sacramento, Calif. at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at