Voters are about to determine whether their states should legalize cannabis, set abortion limits, allow sports betting, tax millionaires, and more.
The questions at the bottom of ballots can easily be overshadowed by top-of-the-ticket races and candidate attack ads. This year, though, an anti-abortion proposal in Kansas demonstrated how potent such initiatives can be because of their impact on lives and their potential to drive voter engagement.
“We are seeing in real time in 2022 just how ballot measures are peaking voter turnout,” said Kelly Hall, executive director of the Fairness Project, which backs citizen initiatives across the US.
Of the 129 measures across 36 states, the hands-down money leader is in California, where fundraising by the committees for and against proposals to legalize sports betting at tribal casinos and on mobile devices has topped the half-billion dollar mark.
Broadcast and online advertising on those races has topped $162 million, according to the tracking firm AdImpact—dwarfing the $18 million spent on ads about another ballot proposal that suggests taxing the rich and dedicating the revenue to electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
So in a sense West Coast TV stations already are ballot-question winners. Here are the issues we’re watching. — Tiffany Stecker
States to Watch: Alaska, California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Vermont
The most dramatic of the campaigns to influence voters on an abortion ballot issue may be in Michigan, where the effort to cement a constitutional abortion right has contributed to tensions in the state’s races for governor, the Legislature, and the state Supreme Court.
The Republican-controlled Legislature would be better positioned to enact abortion restrictions if Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) is defeated Tuesday, or if the GOP gains a large enough majority to be able to override vetoes. If the constitutional amendment (Proposal 3) is adopted, much will ride on who’s wearing the robes for the inevitable court cases interpreting state law in light of the new language.
The abortion ballot issue led to extra scrutiny of the state Supreme Court justices up for re-election. Among them: a dissenter who said the abortion question shouldn’t have made the ballot because of a series of typos. That justice’s ex-wife came forward with a personal abortion story.
The proposal on Michigan’s ballot specifies autonomy on all decisions related to pregnancy, including the right to end it. In California, Proposition 1 would amend the Constitution to state that residents have the fundamental right to an abortion and to contraceptives.
Vermont‘s proposed change (Second Question) would guarantee reproductive autonomy unless there is a “justified” reason not to do so.
Kentucky voters have the opposite question in front of them: whether to expressly deny a constitutional right to an abortion (Amendment 2).
In Montana, voters are deciding whether to require medical care to infants born alive after an attempted abortion, Cesarean section, or labor induction (Legislative Referendum 131).
And though the word abortion isn’t on Alaska ballots, that issue is in the forefront of discussion about whether to have a constitutional convention (Measure 1).
“Right now, our Alaska Constitution is the only guarantor of that fundamental right,” Joelle Hall, president of Alaska AFL-CIO and co-chair of the Defend Our Constitution campaign, said in a debate.
“A Constitutional Convention provides the best opportunity to address much needed judicial reform, school choice and clarifying that our State Constitution does NOT contain a right to abortion in it,” the anti-abortion Alaska Family Council says on its website. — Alex Ebert
- Ballot Question That Doesn’t Mention Abortion Is About Abortion
- Democrats Use Abortion Ballot to Tip Crucial Midterm House Races
- Abortion Issue’s Potency Tested by November Ballot Questions
- Ballot Groups Sharpen Abortion Messages After Kansas
CANNABIS and MAGIC MUSHROOMS
States to Watch: Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota
Colorado voters are deciding if they want to decriminalize the use of plant-based psychedelic substances, including magic mushrooms (Proposition 122), while cannabis is on five other ballots.
All of the measures would draw the legal pot line at age 21.
The Arkansas measure would let the state collect a 10% cannabis tax, with 15% of that revenue going to fund a law enforcement officer stipend, 10% dedicated to the University of Arkansas, 5% for drug court programs, and the rest to regulatory costs. Proponents have raised nearly $5 million and critics collected $2 million, according to campaign-finance tracker OpenSecrets.org.
Missouri‘s would set up a system for issuing licenses, and add a 6% tax. Revenue would go to pay for the expungement of criminal records, veterans’ health care, and drug addiction treatment. The measure, bankrolled with $7 million from medical marijuana companies, has drawn criticism from legalization advocates who say it wouldn’t go far enough to expunge convictions and would make it hard for new growers to enter the market. The state Democratic Party declined to endorse the measure.
North Dakota‘s initiative would legalize the possession of up to one ounce of the drug or three plants, and in South Dakota, voter approval would allow marijuana cultivation in cities or counties with no cannabis dispensaries. South Dakotans are considering the issue again after the state Supreme Court tossed the successful 2020 legalization measure.
Maryland‘s proposed cannabis constitutional amendment (Question 4) was put on the ballot by the Legislature. If approved, it would legalize marijuana for Marylanders 21 and up and lawmakers would be directed to pass further legislation to create a taxed and regulated market.
If all the pot measures are approved, smoking or ingesting marijuana would be legal in 24 states and the District of Columbia. — Tiffany Stecker
- Five States to Vote on Legal Cannabis
- Medical Marijuana Firms Lead Donors for Legal Weed Campaigns (AP)
- Black Leaders Divided Over Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure (Marijuana Moment)
States to Watch: Iowa, Oregon
Iowa‘s Proposed Constitutional Amendment would specify that residents have the right to own and carry firearms.
Voter approval could open the door to challenges to other laws, such as one that bans gun possession for people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses, said Susan Liebell, a political science professor at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
In an October Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, 58% of likely voters surveyed said they supported the change.
Oregon voters are being asked to ban magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition and establish stringent restrictions on firearms purchases, including providing fingerprints, undergoing a background check and taking a safety course (Measure 114).
Religious organizations drove the effort to put the initiative on the November ballot. “It is our Christian duty to protect the vulnerable,” the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon, Diana Akiyama, told the Episcopal News Service.
The Oregon State Sheriff’s Association opposes it. “It will move very scarce law-enforcement resources from protecting our communities to doing backgrounds and issuing permits,” the association’s president, Shane Nelson, said in a video statement.
In a Nelson Research survey, about 49.4% of voters polled said they oppose the measure, with 46.1% supporting, 4.5% undecided and a margin of error of 4.1%. — Jennifer Kay
States to Watch: Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Oregon, South Dakota
For a third time, California voters are being asked whether they want to tighten rules on kidney dialysis clinics. This year’s version (Proposition 29) would require a doctor to be on duty while patients are getting dialysis, and follows rejection in 2020, when 63% voted no, and in 2018, when close to 60% voted no.
The opposition campaign, which has amassed $86 million to defeat the measure, in a recent statement characterized it as a means “to achieve a political agenda” for SEIU-UHW. The union has raised $8.3 million.
Arizonans could decide to cap medical debt at 3%, down from 10% and limit the value of assets and wages debt collectors could seize (Proposition 209). Supporters say it will protect consumers from crushing debt, and critics contend it would be unfair to those who do pay what they’re billed.
AdImpact trackers have captured commercials only from advocates urging a “yes” vote on the Arizona initiative in the past 30 days.
Massachusetts voters will consider dental insurance premium refunds (Question 2). Insurance companies would have to spend at least 83% of premiums on dental expenses or issue rebates, and report a plan’s medical loss ratio— the share of premiums spent on care — to the state. Dentists say the proposal would redirect money to policyholders instead of enriching insurers. The committee against the measure argues the opposite, saying a mandate would cause dental costs to rise.
In Oregon, a proposed constitutional amendment (Measure 111) would declare, “It is the obligation of the state to ensure that every resident of Oregon has access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care as a fundamental right.”
If voters adopt the change, the next step would be writing a law to put the requirement in action and then presumably litigation in which courts would work out how the constitutional change should be interpreted.
And South Dakota could join 38 states and the District of Columbia in expanding eligibility for Medicaid since the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Legislators sought to tank the prospects for the initiative (Measure D) by trying for a two-thirds threshold to pass spending measures. That proposal failed on the June 7 primary election ballot. — Tiffany Stecker and Alex Ruoff
- Arizona Voters Get a Say on Limiting Medical Debt Charges
- South Dakota Latest GOP State Set to Vote on Medicaid Expansion
States to Watch: District of Columbia, Nebraska, Nevada
The federal minimum wage was last increased in 2009. In two states, voters are being asked to raise their local baselines and lock in automatic inflation adjustments.
Nebraska’s Initiative 433 seeks to gradually increase the $9 an hour minimum wage to $15 by 2026. After that, the bottom hourly pay level would go up based on the US Labor Department’s consumer price index for the Midwest region. The ballot question was initiated by voters.
In Nevada, a measure initiated by legislators (Question 2) asks whether the state Constitution should be amended to set annual inflation adjustments, to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2024, and to end a system of differing minimum-wage rates depending on whether employees are offered health benefits.
If the measure is defeated, next year the two rates of base pay are set to rise to $10.25 an hour from the current $9.50 for workers with a qualifying medical benefit, and to $11.25 an hour from the current $10.50 for workers who aren’t offered health insurance.
The District of Columbia is asking voters (Initiative 82) whether they want servers and other tipped workers to earn $16.10 per hour by 2027, up from the current $5.35 an hour. — Stephen Joyce
- Voters Asked for Higher Minimum Wages and Inflation Adjustments
- D.C. Servers, Restaurateurs Battle Over ‘Tipped Minimum’ (Washington Post)
- What Question 2 Means (Nevada Current)
States to Watch: Massachusetts, Ohio
Massachusetts voters are being asked whether to keep or reject a law that will let undocumented immigrants apply for driver’s licenses beginning in July 2023 (Question 4).
Supporters are arguing that everyone on the road ought to be licensed and insured, while those favoring the law’s repeal say it wouldn’t improve safety.
In Ohio, voters are being asked whether non-citizens should vote in local elections (Issue 2)— a statewide question being asked in response to the action of the tiny town of Yellow Springs, where in a 2019 referendum, residents approved non-citizen voting rights for local candidates and issues.
The secretary of state has prevented implementation, saying it would violate the state and federal constitutions.
Read more: Ohio Seeks to Become Latest State to Ban Noncitizen Voting (AP)
POWER OF THE ELECTORATE
States to Watch: Arizona, Arkansas
Lawmakers in two states put measures on the ballot that are intended to make it more difficult for future ballot issues to succeed. Their goal: scrap the ability to make ballot-box changes by a simple majority vote and instead require that three-fifths of voters be the minimum for approval of certain ballot questions (Arizona Proposition 132, Arkansas Issue 2).
In addition to seeking a higher vote threshold for tax ballot questions, Arizona also has one that would hand the Legislature the power to repeal initiatives that were invalidated in court (Proposition 128) and another that would require measures to stay focused on a single subject (Proposition 129). — Brenna Goth
- Voters Are Being Asked To Limit Their Own Ballot Box Power
- Impeding Citizen-Driven Initiatives Is Latest Election Law Fight
SLAVERY and RACE
States to Watch: Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont
Yes, it’s 2022. And yes, involuntary servitude is a current issue.
In Alabama, citizens will decide whether to repeal language that’s been part of the state Constitution since 1901. It allows involuntary servitude “for the punishment of crime, of which the party shall have been duly convicted.”
The proposed changes also include deleting this: “The Legislature shall never pass any law to authorize or legalize any marriage between any white person and a Negro, or descendant of a negro.” (Recompiled Constitutional Ratification Question).
Tennessee voters also have the opportunity to remove from their Constitution language permitting the involuntary servitude of those found guilty of crimes (Constitutional Amendment 3).
Oregon’s Measure 112 would remove an exception for criminal servitude and add language authorizing a state court or probation or parole agency to order alternatives to incarceration as part of a post-conviction sentencing.
Louisiana voters are being asked, “Do you support an amendment to prohibit the use of involuntary servitude except as it applies to the otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice?” (Amendment 7).
And a proposed constitutional amendment in Vermont (Proposal 2) would insert a prohibition on “slavery and indentured servitude in any form” and remove language stating someone could be held as a servant, slave or apprentice “for the payment of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like.” — Jennifer Kay
Read More: Involuntary Inmate Labor a 2022 Question
State to Watch: California
Online-gambling platforms DraftKings Inc., FanDuel Inc., and BetMGM, and California Indian tribes, are behind the record-breaking fundraising numbers as they vie to get voters to legalize sports-betting in a potential multibillion-dollar market.
Over $570 million has poured in from all sides on questions to let Californians place wagers on sporting events at tribal casinos (Proposition 26) and to allow gamblers to bet through their mobile devices (Proposition 27).
Californians don’t appear to be sold on the concept. In a late October poll of nearly 6,000 likely voters, 53% rejected the tribal measure and 64% said they’d vote against the online sports wagering one. — Laura Mahoney
- California’s Sports-Betting Fight Is Getting Messy
- Sports Wagering Measures Appear to be Doomed (CalMatters)
States to Watch: Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, West Virginia
A proposal to further tax California residents making over $2 million has attracted a formidable foe in Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).
Newsom opposes the measure (Proposition 30), which seeks to raise $5 billion annually to help phase out gas-powered cars and protect the state from wildfires. He says it would primarily benefit Lyft Inc, which is under a state mandate to make its fleet all-electric. The rideshare behemoth has given more than $45 million to the effort.
The measure’s environmental supporters say the new tax revenue is crucial if Californians want to avert a climate-change catastrophe.
On the opposite coast, Massachusetts community groups and labor unions want millionaires to pay an additional 4% tax to pay for education and transportation projects (Question 1). They’ve raised nearly $24 million for it.
Opponents, who include New Balance athletic company owner Jim Davis, have given $14 million to defeat it.
As noted above, a measure in Arizona would require a 60% majority vote for approval of tax ballot measures (Proposition 132). Another (Proposition 310) asks voters whether they want to increase the state sales tax by 0.1% for 20 years to fund state fire districts.
Colorado voters will decide whether to creatively get more from the wealthy by limiting their deductions (Proposition FF)
while slightly cutting the state income tax rate to 4.4% from 4.55% (Proposition 121).
And West Virginia voters will decide whether to give lawmakers the authority to exempt machinery, equipment, inventory, and personal vehicles from taxes (Amendment 2) — Laura Mahoney
- Millionaire Tax Bite Threatened to Grow After Voters Have a Say
- Lyft Escalates Political Fight Over Proposed Climate Tax
- West Virginia Ballot Measure Has Local Officials ‘Very, Very Nervous’ (route-fifty.com)
States to Watch: Illinois and Tennessee
Organized labor is pushing to add worker-rights language to the Illinois Constitution and defeat proposed restrictions in Tennessee, one of 27 states that ban compulsory union membership.
Tennessee voters are being asked (Constitutional Amendment 1) to enshrine that prohibition in the state constitution to make it hard for future lawmakers to reverse that policy. “The best way to ensure we remain a right-to-work state and protect worker freedoms for generations to come is to place it in the state constitution,” said Tennessee Rep. Chris Todd (R).
Illinois voters are being asked to create a constitutional right to collectively bargain and to be represented by a union (Amendment 1). “There’s an assault on workers out there, and we want to say, ‘ Whoa, we not going to do that in Illinois’,” Illinois AFL-CIO President Tim Drea said in an interview. — Stephen Joyce
States to Watch: Colorado and Massachusetts
Booze licensing is on the ballot in Massachusetts and Colorado, which has two initiatives that would let supermarkets and convenience stores to sell wine and deliver alcohol to customers (Proposition 125, Proposition 126).
Doordash Inc., Instacart, Target Corp., Whole Foods Market Inc., and other grocers have spent more than $13 million to support the Colorado initiatives. US Rep. David Trone (D-Md.), co-owner of Total Wine & More, also is backing the measure with his brother Robert Trone. Both have donated almost $1.8 million total to try to get it approved.
A third proposal (Proposition 124) would gradually increase the number of liquor store licenses an individual or business could hold, from the current three to an unlimited number after 2037. Local liquor stores oppose all three measures and have spent $670,000 to fight them.
The Massachusetts proposal (Question 3) would let chain stores sell beer and wine in more locations and reduce the number of locations where a single retailer can sell hard liquor along with wine or beer. It also would ban self-check-out for alcohol purchases. Supporters have raised $1.9 million. — Tiffany Stecker
- Why a Maryland Congressman Spent $1 million on a Colorado Ballot Initiative (Colorado Sun)
- Booze issues will be on Colorado’s November ballot (KOAA-TV)
- What to Know About Massachusetts Ballot Question 3 (WBUR radio)
With assistance from Jennifer Kay, Alex Ebert, Stephen Joyce, Brenna Goth, Laura Mahoney, and Alex Ruoff
To contact the reporter on this story: Tiffany Stecker in Sacramento, Calif. at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at email@example.com