Top Ballot Measures to Watch in 2016

Today, we are announcing the top ballot measures to watch in 2016. With 157 measures on the ballot in 35 states from Maine to Alaska – 74 of which are citizen initiatives – there are more citizen-initiated ballot measures for voters to decide on this year than any time since 2006. The measures highlighted in today’s announcement are part of a growing trend for organizations and citizens to turn to direct democracy to advance issues like economic inequality and gun safety that legislatures have failed to pass.

People have channeled the frustration they have with gridlocked state legislatures into getting measures on the ballot that will improve the lives of working people. With a big focus on economic inequality, we’re going to be able to use this year’s gains to advance a policy agenda that will move our nation forward and create an economy that works for everyone.

While in the 1990s and 2000s, ballot measures were primarily used by conservatives to advance their agenda, this year issues from minimum wage increases to commonsense gun regulations are heading to ballots in a number of states. Still, conservatives are trying to use the ballot box to turn back the clock in a number of areas from voter’s rights to payday lending. 

As the only organization solely focused on creating a national progressive strategy for ballot measures, BISC is at the center of this transformation. BISC works with state and national groups to create a cohesive strategy for ballot measures that puts the power to shape the country’s future back into the hands of citizens.

So, without further ado, here are the ballot measures that we here at BISC will be watching this year:

1.) Minimum Wage Increases

Maine, Colorado, Arizona, Washington

People are eager to make progress on economic inequality and it’s no surprise that a number of states have pursued minimum wage increases on the 2016 ballot. Four states will be voting on minimum wage increases in November: Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington. Earned Sick Leave has been included in the Arizona and Washington initiatives. 

2.) Common Sense Gun Laws

Maine, Nevada, California, Washington

Research shows that 90 percent of Americans favor criminal background checks for all gun sales, but Congress and state legislatures ignore people’s cries for action. Voters, however, cannot be bullied by the gun lobby. It’s no surprise Americans have taken the fight for common sense gun reforms to the ballot box. Building on momentum from Washington state’s 2014 passage of Initiative 594, which required universal background checks for all guns sold in that state, measures calling for background checks have qualified for the ballot in Maine and Nevada. The same campaign that successfully passed background checks in Washington, is taking the next step to institute extreme protection orders, allowing authorities to temporarily seize guns from those deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

3.) Marijuana Legalization for Medical and Recreational Uses

Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada

Building on ballot initiative wins in Colorado, Washington State, Oregon, the District of Columbia and Alaska in recent years, cannabis advocates have placed medical and recreational marijuana legalization on the ballot in nine states. This makes marijuana the most common issue on the ballot this year. If the campaigns moving in 2016 are successful, we can expect more states to take the lessons learned and attempt to move marijuana on the ballot or through the legislature in the coming years.

4.) Revenue for Public Education and Services

Oregon, Maine, California

In this age of shrinking social services, campaigns in three states are asking voters to approve revenue measures that would better fund public schools and increase social services. Measure 97 in Oregon would increase the taxes corporations pay to the state. Meanwhile, if it passes, Question 2 would add a 3% tax on the incomes of Mainers earning more than $200,000 a year. California voters will be deciding whether or not to maintain current income tax levels on the top 3% of California wage earners.

5.)  Prescription Drug Price Relief


Proposition 61 is likely to be the most expensive ballot measure campaign in California this year. The measure prohibits the states from buying any prescription drug from a drug manufacturer at price over lowest price paid for the drug by United States Department of Veterans Affairs. The pharmaceutical industry has already moved almost $70 million to oppose the proposition.

 6.) Payday Lending Regulations

South Dakota

There are two payday loan ballot measures on the South Dakota ballot this November which look very similar but have vastly different impact. South Dakota currently has one of the nation’s highest interest rates on payday loans – an average of 652%.   The first initiative has proposed to cap interest rates at 36%.  The second proposal is largely funded by the Payday lending industry and would cap loans at 18% unless the borrower agrees in writing to pay a higher rate.

 7.) Death Penalty

California, Nebraska

California is in the unique position of having two different propositions related to the death penalty.  Proposition 62 would repeal the death penalty. Proposition 66 would remove important legal safeguards that guide the prosecution of death penalty cases and in essence, end the decade-long de facto moratorium in the state.

Nebraska is facing a referendum, funded primarily by the state’s Governor, on the legislatures recent decision to abolish the death penalty in the state. Even if the campaign to reinstate the death penalty is successful, it would not eliminate the problems that have stymied executions for nearly two decades in Nebraska.

8.) Voter ID


In a continuation of their decade long fight to institute Voter ID, the Missouri legislature has placed a constitutional amendment on the ballot that asks voters to approve a change to the state’s voting laws which would explicitly allow voter identification requirements. An amendment is necessary because 10 years ago the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that a similar law violated the state’s constitution. Still, no matter what voters decide at the ballot box, it may be the courts that have the final say. In the past several months, justices have recently struck down regressive Voter ID laws in North Carolina and Texas. 

9.) Education

Massachusetts, Georgia

Billionaires from Michael Bloomberg to the Walton family have pumped more than $11 million into the Bay State to lift that state’s cap on charter schools, which would take away up to $100 million in much needed funding from public schools. Meanwhile Georgia Governor Nathan Deal is supporting an initiative that would allow the state to takeover school districts and give absolute power for to a hand-picked appointee and allow out-of-state, for profit corporations to run Georgia schools.