The battle for the Senate is getting the most media attention ahead of next week’s midterm election. Congressional approval and faith in government are at historic lows — but candidates aren’t the only thing voters will be deciding on. There are 146 ballot initiatives at stake in 42 states that could directly impact voters, from limiting women’s access to an abortion to providing more information about what ingredients are in the food people eat.
Here are some of the more controversial initiatives to watch on Tuesday:
Raising the minimum wage. Though the federal minimum wage hike has stalled in Congress, four Republican-leaning states have measures on the ballot to raise their minimum wage above the federal level. Alaska’s measure proposes a $9.75 minimum wage and would provide the highest bump over the federal level, while Nebraska’s minimum wage workers could see a raise to $9.00 an hour and Arkansas and South Dakota are both up for an increase to $8.50. Illinois also has a non-binding referendum on the ballot to raise the minimum wage to $10. Democrats hope the measures will increase voter turnout among party members in the four states, which fall on both ends of the cost of living spectrum (Alaska has the fourth highest, while Arkansas and Nebraska have the seventh and eleventh lowest, respectively).
Legalizing marijuana. Marijuana initiatives will appear on the midterm ballot in three states and Washington D.C. In Alaska, Oregon and D.C. — three places where the drug is already decriminalized — voters will decide whether or not to legalize recreational marijuana. All three measures would allow the state or district to tax pot like alcohol and regulate it so that people over the age of 21 can possess and grow certain quantities. D.C.’s Initiative 71 would not create a legal market for pot like the measures would in the two other states because voter initiatives in D.C. cannot impact the economy, but pot shops would likely be established in all three locations.
In Florida, voters will decide whether or not to legalize medical marijuana, a step almost half of states have already taken. Florida’s Amendment 2 would allow the state’s Department of Health to run a program to allow the use of pot to treat certain “debilitating diseases.”
Background checks for guns. Less than two weeks after a deadly school shooting in Marysville, Washington, voters across the state will decide whether to approve two competing initiatives which would change the background check requirements on gun sales — one would impose a requirement on all gun sales including those online and at gun shows, while the other would prohibit Washington from enforcing a background check requirement unless the federal government acts to create a “uniform national standard.” If both initiatives pass, a messy legal battle could be in Washington’s future.
On the opposite side of the gun conversation, Alabama’s Amendment 3 would guarantee that state residents have a “fundamental right to bear arms” and any restriction on this right would be subject to strict scrutiny.
Extreme restrictions on abortion. Three states have measures on their ballots that could severely impact women’s access to abortions and other forms of reproductive health. Both Colorado and North Dakota have initiatives that would amend the constitution to define fetuses as people; Colorado’s would change the definition of person to include “unborn human beings,” while North Dakota’s would add a section to the constitution that says “the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.” Tennessee’s Amendment 1 would edit the constitution to say that “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.”
None of the initiatives have language that explicitly gives exceptions in cases of rape, incest or the woman’s health. Abortions in the three states make up just over three percent of abortions performed in the country.
Recycling bottles: In Massachusetts, voters will decide whether to expand the state’s beverage container deposit law to include non-alcoholic and non-carbonated beverages. Currently, consumers pay a refundable 5 cent deposit when they purchase bottles and cans of beer and carbonated drinks, but the measure would expand the tax to include bottles of water, juice, sports drinks and iced tea. The original bill was enacted 30 years ago and since then, the market for bottled and canned beverages has expanded — according to the Boston Globe, America’s current recycling rate for bottles without a deposit is only 23 percent.
Battles over conservation: The North Dakota Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment would redirect five percent of the state’s oil extraction tax revenue toward conservation activities such as improving water quality, natural flood control, fish and wildlife habitat, and land acquisition for parks and outdoor education. According to supporters of Measure 5, it would amount to $130 million a year for the next 25 years. However, there’s another measure on the North Dakota ballot which would prohibit in the future constitutional amendments like Measure 5 that directly appropriate funds for specific purposes.
Labeling GMOs: Both Colorado and Oregon have measures on the ballot which would provide consumers with more information about what is in their food. Colorado’s Proposition 105 and Oregon’s Measure 92 would require companies to label foods that have been genetically modified or contain genetically-modified ingredients. Monsanto, Kraft, and Pepsico have spent millions of dollars opposing both initiatives and narrowly defeated similar measures in California and Washington, while other food corporations including Chipotle have come out in support. If either measure passes, the state would be the first to approve ballot initiatives mandating the labeling of GMOs — earlier this year, Vermont’s legislature passed a GMO labeling law, but it is currently held up in the courts.
Health insurance reform: California has a measure on its ballot that would reform how the rates of health insurance plans would be decided. If Proposition 45 passed, state officials, specifically the Insurance Commissioner would have to approve changes in rates of individual and small group plans and there would have to be public hearings on any potential rate changes. The proposition is supported by the California Democratic Party, Consumer Watchdog and the California Nurses Association, while the California Republican Party and California Chamber of Commerce oppose it. Groups opposing the proposition have outspent groups supporting it by about 56 million to 6 million.
Keeping more people out of prison: Proposition 47, also in California, would reduce the classification of non-serious and nonviolent crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor. If passed, crimes including certain cases of shoplifting, grand theft, forgery, fraud and the personal use of most illegal drugs, among others, would be categorized as misdemeanors. Supports call the initiative “The Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act” because it would also create a neighborhood and schools fund which would receive appropriations from the state based on how much is saved annually by the initiative.
Stronger protections for crime victims: Illinois’ Crime Victims Bill of Rights, or Marsy’s Law, would protect victims during court proceedings and criminal trials from violations of their rights including protection from the defendant and notification of all court proceedings. Named for California’s law passed in 2008 following the murder of a college student, the law is supported by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Amelia Rosch contributed to this post.