The Nine State Ballot Initiative Topics You Should Be Watching

Two weeks before election day, the TV airways are abuzz not just with presidential and Congressional campaign messages, but also with ads focused on ballot initiatives, referenda, and state constitutional amendments. These often-overlooked plebiscite votes have a huge impact on public policy. Of the 174 questions on the ballot, here are nine of the most important:

1.Immigration (Maryland and Montana). Maryland voters will vote on Question 4, deciding whether a state DREAM Act, passed by the legislature, should go into law. Recent polling shows that 59 percent of state residents support the proposal, which would allow eligible undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities. Montanans will vote on LR-121, a proposal to deny state services to undocumented immigrants — including state permits, licenses, and services for crime victims.

2. Marriage equality (Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington). Voters in Maryland (Question 6), Maine (Question 1), and Washington (Referendum 74) will vote on whether to enact marriage equality for same-sex couples. Polling in all three states indicate majority support for the measures. Minnesotans will consider a proposed marriage inequality amendment (Amendment 1). Polling there shows it is very close and, under state law, opponents of equality will need a majority of all voters who show up — even if they don’t vote on Amendment 1 — to amend the state constitution.

3. Marijuana (Arkansas, Colorado, Massachusetts, Montana, Oregon, and Washington). Colorado’s Amendment 64 and Washington’s Initiative 502 would legalize and regulate sales of small quantities of marijuana to residents 21 years and older. Both efforts are polling fairly well, though Oregon’s less-restrictive Measure 80 appears to be trailing. Arkansas (Issue 5) and Massachusetts (Question 3) will both consider proposals to allow medical marijuana and Montana (Initiative Referendum 124) will vote on whether to allow the state legislature to substitute its own medical marijuana law for one enacted by voters in 2004.

4. Voter Suppression (Minnesota). Amendment 2 would amend the state’s constitution to require all voters “to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters.” Voting rights groups oppose the effort, as in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent. While recent polls show a slim majority supporting for the measure, opposition has grown significantly since June. Like with the state’s marriage inequality amendment, supporters of the voter ID amendment will need a majority of all voters who show up — even if they don’t vote on this issue — to amend the state constitution.

5. Abortion rights (Florida and Montana). Florida’s Amendment 6 is misleading proposal, characterized as ban on “public funding” of abortion, but prohibiting any public funds from going to “health-benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion.” The amendment, which had plurality support in a recent poll, requires 60 percent support to become law. Montana’s LR-120 would require parental consent for minors under age 16 to get an abortion.

6. Unions and collective bargaining rights (California and Michigan). California’s Proposition 32 would prevent labor unions from collecting money from their membership to pay for political activities, while doing nothing about corporations which, thanks to Citizens United, can spend as much of their corporate treasury funds on electioneering as they wish. This misleading proposal — dressed up as a campaign finance reform effort — is being pushed by a wealthy Republican activist and the Koch-linked America’s Future Fund. Michigan’s Proposition 12-2 would amend the state’s constitution to protect collective bargaining rights. Recent polls show both measures could go either way.

7. State land seizure (Arizona): Proposition 120 would declare state sovereignty “over the air, water, public lands, wildlife and other natural resources” within Arizona’s borders. The question, which was referred by the state legislature, is widely viewed as an unconstitutional effort to seize federal lands, including the Grand Canyon.

8. The Courts (Arizona, Florida, and Missouri). Florida voters will also consider Amendment 5, which would grant the state legislature more control over state’s supreme court. The proposal would require confirmation of judges by the state senate and would allow override the Supreme Court’s decisions on judicial rules and procedures by a simple majority vote. In Missouri, Constitutional Amendment 3 would give the governor increased power to appoint the commission that makes state judicial nominees. Arizona’s Proposition 115 — backed by Gov. Jan Brewer (R) — would also give the governor more influence over the commission that makes judicial nominations.

9. Criminal justice(California). Proposition 34 would repeal California’s death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. A recent poll showed the proposal trailing slightly. In April, Connecticut became the 17th state to abolish capital punishment. Proposition 36 would change California’s “three-strikes-and-you’re out” law to impose life sentence only when if the third felony conviction is serious or violent.

Justine Sarver, executive director of the progressive Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, told ThinkProgress, “Ballot measures are the ‘other election,’ happening right under our noses. Voters are rightly concerned about the presidential election and other candidate races, but the decisions we make on ballot measures this year will have lasting effects on our families, our jobs, our health and our future.”


An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Florida’s Amendment 5.

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