Voters support campaign finance reform and redistricting in off-year ballot initiatives

November 4, 2015

It may have been a quiet, off year election, but voters in several states made some very big decisions.

“Voters in Colorado, Maine, Mississippi, Texas and Washington gave us a preview of the ballot initiative fights ahead of us in 2016,” said Justine Sarver, Executive Director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. “Many voters are going to be facing similar questions next year, and there are lessons to be learned from the fights on issues like funding for schools and campaign finance reform in 2015.”

With a yes vote on Question 1 (55% to 45%), voters in Maine made their state the first since McCornish v. Bennett (2011) to restore public financing for candidate campaigns.

Thanks to TABOR, a highly problematic law in Colorado, voters approved (69% to 31%) a proposition on what to do with surplus revenue from marijuana sales. Without voters’ approval on Proposition BB, the state would not have been able to keep the surplus revenue. This would have happened even though voters said they wanted this revenue when they legalized marijuana in 2012 and again in 2013 when they passed Proposition AA.

In Ohio, voters chose to approve creation of a redistricting commission and eliminated the question of what happens when competing amendments pass. They approved Issue 2, which banned creation of business monopolies via ballot measure, and rejected Issue 3 which would have legalized recreational marijuana.

Legislators in Mississippi have underfunded schools to the tune of $1.7 billion since 2009. Unfortunately, with the results of yesterday’s close vote against amending the Mississippi constitution (48% to 52%), nothing will change immediately. However, voters stated their overwhelming support for ensuring schools are adequately funded by voting on the Initiative 42 (58% to 42%) itself. And as expected, voters in Washington passed Initiative 1366, a measure which sought to block reforms to the state’s regressive tax system by requiring a super-majority on legislation that increased revenue. The measure is constitutionally flawed and will likely be ruled invalid by courts.

In Houston, Texas voters chose not to support the recently passed Equal Rights Ordinance, which would have banned discrimination based not just on gender identity and sexual orientation but also 13 other classes including family, marital and military status.

This is not the end of the non-discrimination fight in Houston or around the country. 200 other cities currently have similar non-discrimination measures and we are likely to see more of these fights in 2016.

Additionally a number of states may see initiatives next year calling for revenue for schools and services. They include California, Missouri, Maine and Oregon. And there is a significant interest among progressives in pursuing democracy reforms such as campaign finance and election reforms in 2016, with initiatives already under consideration in Missouri, Washington, and Alaska.

“There were a variety of issues on the ballot this election year,” said Ms. Sarver, “and we will take these lessons learned to make sure that progressive ideas are poised to spread far and wide in 2016.”