Three initiatives to watch this November

October 26, 2015

It may be a low-key, off-year election, but voters in Maine, Washington and Mississippi are making some big decisions this November.

These initiatives have major policy implications and could influence campaigns eyeing the 2016 ballot.

1. A return to public campaign financing in Maine

Question 1 in Maine is the first attempt since McCornish v Bennett (2011) to restore public funding for candidate elections. The measure – in addition to increasing transparency and creating higher penalties for campaign finance violations – would create a system of public financing for candidates who can demonstrate grassroots support in the state.

Election reforms that push back on the unfettered spending allowed under Citizens United could gain steam in 2016. Question 1 is the only citizen initiated issue on Maine’s ballot this year, so voters are turning out to vote specifically on this issue.

Brief description: Question 1 would strengthen the Maine Clean Elections Act and increase transparency to expose special interest money in elections.

Link to official title and summary:

Link to text of measure: assets/CitizenInitiative.pdf

2. A false choice in Washington State

Initiative 1366 in Washington State is a false choice that takes Washington backward. The measure – sponsored by Tim Eyman, who is currently under investigation for using ballot-initiative campaigns to enrich himself – is written as an either/or statement: either the legislature change the constitution in such a way that would prevent reforms to the state’s regressive tax system, or the measure will blow an $8 billion hole in the state’s budget. Either way, Washington loses.

The measure is constitutionally flawed and will likely be ruled invalid by the courts. A bipartisan coalition of groups opposes the measure. See the full list of opponents here.

Brief description: Initiative 1366, sponsored by Tim Eyman, would force lawmakers to either change the constitution – requiring a two-thirds supermajority to reform Washington’s regressive tax system – or face $8 billion in harmful cuts to essential services over the next six years.

Link to official title and summary:

Link to text of measure:

3. Funding public schools in Mississippi

Initiative 42 in Mississippi would hold the state legislature accountable for its promise to fully fund public schools. Politicians in Jackson, in an attempt to defeat Initiative 42, have placed a counter measure on the ballot, resulting in a complicated ballot.

In 1997, the legislature promised to fully fund public schools in Mississippi. Since then, they have failed to do so in all but two fiscal years. The state has faced a $1.7 billion statewide shortfall since the 2009 fiscal year.

Brief description: Initiative 42 requires legislators to release the tax dollars needed to fully fund public education and allows the courts to hold legislators accountable if they fail to follow the law and fully fund schools.

Link to official title and summary: (Page 20) Voting/Documents/FINAL SAMPLE BALLOT – 2015 General Election.pdf

Link to text of measure:

Preview of 2016

In addition to having major policy implications, all three initiatives will set the tone for the 2016 election, which is shaping up to be a heavy year for progressive ballot-measure campaigns.

While it’s too early to know what will be on the ballot in 2016, there are already several themes visible in the initiative states. Income inequality, along with funding for schools and services, are major concerns for voters. There are already campaigns seeking to increase revenue for schools and services in California, Maine and Oregon – and we expect to see more in the coming months. Addressing income inequality, campaigns seeking to raise the minimum wage are underway in California, Ohio, Maine, Missouri and Washington, D.C.

Another theme emerging is election reform. There is a lot of interest in campaign finance and other election reforms in states such as Missouri, Washington and Alaska. In Alaska, a campaign is underway to tie voter registration to applications for the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend. Doing so would simplify and modernize the registration process. We hope to see more reforms like this on the ballot in 2016.