Ballot Measures Give Frustrated Voters a Chance to Make their Voices Heard

November 5, 2014

Results Show Progressives a Path to Victory on Critical Issues

Over the past four years, the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC) has researched the way voters approach ballot measures. Time and again we have seen that voters – especially the New American Majority of young people, women, and people of color – are frustrated with the hyper-partisanship and gridlock that dominates Congress and their statehouses. They’re frustrated by the out-of-touch, mean-spirited debate between candidates. Most of all, they’re frustrated because they don’t believe that things are going to change no matter which candidate or party wins.

This is in stark contrast to how voters look at ballot measures. They see ballot measures as a direct and tangible way to participate in our democracy and make important changes.

Progressives won major victories on ballot measures this year, and there is reason to be optimistic about what this means for 2016 and 2018. Economic fairness, women’s health and voting rights resonate with voters – and not just in blue and purple states, but red states as well.

The results of the 2014 midterm election highlight opportunities for advancing important issues the next election cycle – even if elected officials are unable or unwilling to act.

Creating an economy that works for everyone

This year, voters of all political persuasions made it clear that economic fairness is at the top of their minds.

Post-Election Report


Arkansas Measure 3: Minimum wage increase

65.4% Yes to 34.6% No

Alaska Issue 5: Minimum wage increase

68.8% Yes to 31.2% No

Illinois: Minimum wage

(advisory question)
66.7% Yes to 33.3% No

Massachusetts Question 4: Earned sick leave

59.5% Yes to 40.5% No

Nebraska Initiative 425:

Minimum wage increase 59.2% Yes to 40.8% No

South Dakota Measure 18: Minimum wage increase

55.1% Yes to 44.9% No

 In 5 states, huge majorities supported raising the minimum wage or requiring earned sick leave. These issues garnered support from two-thirds of voters, including Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

While the top-line numbers show the economy is getting better, many people feel the recovery isn’t working for them. . Most Americans are still struggling with basic pocketbook issues, and they showed their dissatisfaction with the status quo by raising the minimum wage across the country and supporting earned sick leave in Massachusetts.

But these campaigns are just the beginning.

This year’s campaigns kicked off a national conversation about economic fairness – not just about minimum wage and earned sick leave but other important pocketbook issues like pay equity for women and addressing student loan debt.

It’s clear that voters want real action to create an economy that works for all. If action cannot be taken by Congress or by the state legislators, ballot measures provide an effective avenue for moving more economic fairness reforms forward in the next several election cycles.

Protecting women’s reproductive health


Colorado Amendment 67: Personhood

35.6% Yes to 64.4% No

North Dakota Measure 1: Personhood
35.9% Yes to 64.1% No

Tennessee Amendment 1: Constitutional amendment allowing politicians to ban abortion

52.6% Yes to 47.4% No

Time and again, when they are forced to cast a vote on a ballot measure on women’s health, the public votes to ensure health decisions are left to a woman in consultation with her family, her faith, and her doctor — not the government.

Two states (Colorado and North Dakota) had measures on Tuesday’s ballot that, if passed, would have been the most extreme anti-abortion laws in the country.

This year, the campaigns behind these attacks were particularly deceptive.

 In Colorado, for example, the campaign supporting Amendment 67 tied the measure to the story of a pregnant woman struck by a drunk driver in 2008, claiming the amendment would have protected the mother and child. In reality, the measure would have criminalized women, subjecting those who have had miscarriages to criminal investigations. It would have also limited access to birth control and banned in-vitro fertilization.

As they have done in recent years, voters stood up to personhood and defeated the measure in both Colorado and North Dakota.

It’s clear that voters are sick of these continued attacks on women. We are ready to translate that momentum into proactive efforts expanding access to health care in coming years.

Expanding voting rights


Expanding voting rights

Connecticut Question 1: Early voting

47.3% Yes to 52.7% No

88% reporting
Illinois voting rights amendment: Preventing discrimination in voting laws

77.8% Yes to 22.2% No

Protecting voting rights

Missouri Measure 6: “Sham” early voting measure

29.7% Yes to 76.4% No

Montana LR-126: Eliminating election-day registration

43.2% Yes to 56.8% No

In the wake of the Shelby County v Holder ruling that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act, voters took to the ballot box and reaffirmed that they believe there is no right more important than the right to vote.

In the previous decade, groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network, a network of archconservative think tanks, have used the ballot-measure process to push restrictive voter suppression laws into place. Many of these attacks on voting rights have been successful, and attempts to expand access to voting were few and far between.

With the 2014 midterm election, that narrative appears to be changing.

This year, voters in Illinois passed an important voting rights measure, which will protect against discrimination at the voting booth. An early voting measure in Connecticut is too close to call. Efforts to suppress voting appeared in two states, Montana and Missouri. Voters rejected both measures.

Voting is a fundamental part of our democracy, and the outcome of these ballot-measure races is a positive sign that direct democracy can and should be used to expand access to the voting booth and fight back against voter suppression.

Gun violence prevention


Washington Initiative 594: Requires background checks on gun sales

59.7% Yes to 40.3% No

Washington Initiative 591: Counter measure to prohibit background checks

45.5% Yes to 54.5% No 52% reporting

When it comes to guns this election, the Washington that matters most is Washington State.

Initiative 594 was the only up-or-down vote on background checks this cycle, and voters proved the polls right by passing the measure 59.7% to 40.3%. A counter measure that would have prohibited background checks is too close to call, but appears on track for defeat: 54.5% are voting NO with 52% reporting.

With polls consistently showing strong support for
background checks, it’s not surprising that voters supported an initiative on the issue. What is surprising is that the National Rifle Association and other gun lobby groups never turned up to oppose the measure in Washington State in any significant way.

Many expected the initiatives in Washington to draw huge campaign contributions from the gun lobby. That never happened – a testament to the fact that it’s easier to bully politicians than voters.

Since politicians in Washington, DC and state legislators around the country have been unable or unwilling to address background checks, the results in Washington State are encouraging. Initiative 594 represents a path forward in the fight for public safety measures that can help prevent gun violence and save lives.

Criminal justice reform

In California, voters approved Proposition 47 58.5% YES to 41.5% NO. Prop 47 changes some of the lowest-level petty crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and directs financial savings into crime prevention and school programs. The measure will save hundreds of millions annually. These savings will be invested in mental health treatment, drug treatment, crime prevention program, and victim recovery services. This enhances community corrections and stops the cycle of crime.


Two competing ideas of how public education should work were on the ballot on Tuesday. On the one hand, Washington state had a teacher-driven measure to reduce class size and provide more individualized attention to students. On the other, Missouri had a regressive measure to remove local control from school districts and require additional standardized testing.

With only 52% of the votes counted in Washington, Initiative 1351 is still too close to call. Voters in Missouri, however, soundly defeated Amendment 3 by a vote of 76.4% to 23.6%, which is good for public education.

Other Key Races

Alaska Measure 2: Marijuana legalization – 52.1% YES to 47.9% NO Alaska Measure 4: Ban on mining in Bristol Bay – 65.3% YES to 34.7% NO

Phoenix, Arizona Prop 487: Pension cuts – 56% NO to 44% YES.

California Proposition 45: Regulation of health care hikes – 59.8% NO to 40.2% YES California Proposition 46: Raising cap on malpractice awards – 67.1% NO to 32.9% YES

Colorado Proposition 104: Open school board meetings – 69.8% YES to 30.2% NO Colorado Proposition 105: GMO labeling – 66.4% NO to 33.6% YES

Florida Amendment 2: Marijuana legalization – 57.6% YES to 42.4% NO* Florida Amendment 3: Judicial vacancies – 52.1% NO to 47.9% YES *Amendments in Florida require 60% to pass

Georgia Amendment A: Cap on income taxes – 73.9% YES to 30.2% NO

Hawaii Amendment 1084: School vouchers – 54.4% NO to 45.6% YES

Illinois Advisory Question 3: Millionaires tax – 63.4% YES to 36.6% NO

Nevada Question 3: The Education Initiative – 78.8% NO to 21.2$ YES

North Dakota Measure 2: Prohibiting property tax transfers – 74.9% NO to 25.1% YES North Dakota Measure 5: Direct oil taxes to conservation – 79.4% NO to 20.6% YES

Oregon Measure 88: Driver cards – 67.4% NO to 32.6% YES

Oregon Measure 90: Top two primary – 68.1% NO to 31.9% YES

Oregon Measure 91: Marijuana legalization – 54.7% YES to 45.3% NO

Oregon Measure 92: GMO labeling – 51.1% NO to 48.9% YES (only 91% reporting)

Tennessee Amendment 3: Ban on income taxes – 66.2% YES to 33.8% NO