WASHINGTON, D.C. – In 2016, ballot measures were one of the few bright spots for progressives in an otherwise bleak year. While it’s still early in the 2018 cycle, ballot measures have the potential to be one of the chief forms of progressive policy making, protest and platform setting in this year.
“We’re excited to see a large number of progressive, proactive ballot measures this year, especially economic and democratic measures, as part of our Roadmap to 2020 strategy,” said Justine Sarver, Executive Director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.” At the same time there are a number of regressive measures that threaten the security and well-being of immigrants, the LGBTQ community, women’s health, and many of our country’s historically disenfranchised communities.”
The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC) has been tracking 2018 initiatives for more than two years now. While the ballot measure landscape is still shaping up, and many measures have not yet officially qualified for the ballot, BISC has identified ten ballot measures trends that we are watching nationwide.
- Measures to Create a More Equitable Economy: Measures to raise the minimum wage have been perennial favorites at the ballot box, winning everywhere they appeared on the ballot in 2016. This year, advocates are fighting to raise the wage in , Michigan, Missouri, and Massachusetts. States are also looking beyond raising the wage, as they turn towards issues like a paid family and medical leave initiative in Massachusetts and earned, paid sick time in Michigan. Meanwhile, states from California to Massachusetts are proposing fair share revenue measures to fund social services. Many of these campaigns are working with BISC as part of its Roadmap to 2020 strategy, which uses ballot measures as tools to strengthen the economy and reclaim our democracy.
- Initiatives that Expand Democratic Participation: In this era of increased disenchantment with the political process, campaigns are filing measures aimed at cleaning up our political system. One of the most exciting measures is the Florida Second Chances campaign which seeks to restore voting rights to non-violent felons who have served their time. The Clean Missouri initiative aims to increase government transparency and end pay-to-play politics in the Show-Me-State. BISC is also supporting measures that would bring automatic voter registration to Nevada and vote-by-mail to South Dakota. Meanwhile, a number of states are considering redistricting measures and measures that link their state’s electoral votes to the winner of the popular election. Additionally, Maine and Massachusetts voters are likely to see ranked-choice voting on the ballot.
- Criminal Justice Reform: This year, criminal justice is showing up on the ballot in ways that both aim to address inequities in our current system and in ways that would increase these disparities. The Florida Second Chances campaign, which just qualified for the ballot yesterday, has already become one of 2018’s highest-profile campaigns. There’s another exciting measure in Washington that tackles violence by police officers head on, by creating a good faith test for whether use of deadly force was justifiable and provides de-escalation training for officers. In Ohio, a potential measure would downgrade non-violent drug crimes to misdemeanors and put savings gained from a smaller prison population into drug treatment programs. Along the same lines, the marijuana legalization and decriminalization measures filed in several states will help to reverse a system of mass incarceration across the country. On the regressive side, measures designed to roll back progress include a potential California measure to repeal parts of Prop 47 and Prop 57, which reduced sentences for certain nonviolent felonies and increased opportunities for parole, respectively. BISC is also tracking several Missouri measures which aim to make the criminal justice system more restrictive and Marsy’s law measures in Nevada and Oklahoma.
- Attacks on Labor: For the anti-worker movement, everything that’s old is new again. Once again, measures are cropping up on the ballot in multiple states, with Missouri, Michigan and Oregon facing attacks this year. Oregon is seeing a spate of anti-union measures, ranging from targeting union dues to right-to-work. Business organizations in Michigan once again trying to repeal the prevailing wage. In a move certainly designed to confuse voters, anti-labor activists in Missouri have filed two attacks on workers’ right to organize, which they hope to place on the ballot alongside the “right to work” repeal measure Missourians were able to qualify earlier this year.
- Attacks to Immigrants: Nationwide, conservatives are taking a page from Trump’s race-baiting playbook by trying to use sanctuary cities as a campaign issue. After using anti-immigrant rhetoric this year to try to win elections from Virginia to Albuquerque, it’s no surprise that conservatives are taking the issue on the ballot in 2018. BISC is tracking anti-sanctuary city ballot measures in Missouri, Oregon, and Nevada (currently under legal challenge).
- LGBTQ Attacks: Similar to the anti-immigrant measures, conservatives are directly targeting the transgender community through a system of fear and misinformation. A referendum on protections for transgender people is already on the ballot in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, a Montana initiative which would prohibit transgender people from using the bathroom that conforms with their gender identity is currently under legal review after a lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of Montana.
- Attacks on Women’s Health: As part of an ongoing battle to restrict women’s health care, voters in two states may see anti-choice measures on the ballot. A “personhood” measure was referred to the Alabama ballot by the legislature and a petition to prevent poor women from accessing abortions is circulating in Oregon.
- Health Care on the Ballot: Given the federal battle over the Affordable Care Act and continuing inequities in access to and quality of health care, it’s no surprise that health care measures are popping up on ballots across the country. BISC is tracking measures that address the health care system in a number of states, including: a drug price initiative in in South Dakota, limits on dialysis pricing in California, Medicaid expansion measures in Idaho and Utah, several ACA-focussed initiatives in Washington, and an initiative that regulates nurse-patient ratios in Massachusetts.
- Protecting Progressive Progress in California: The good news: California voters will likely see a smaller ballot than in 2016, when voters decided on 17 statewide ballot measures. The bad news: Many of the ballot measures likely to qualify next year are attempts to roll back gains on criminal justice, and revenue. At the same time, there are several potential California measures that would further progressive policy change, including measures that address California’s housing problems, and a measure which protects consumer data from data breaches. Thanks in part to the leadership of the BISC California program, the California progressive movement is better organized than any time in recent memory to fight back against conservative attacks.
- Attacks to the Ballot Measure Process: As we saw in 2016, ballot measures are increasingly tools for progressive change. So, it’s no surprise that conservative groups have made it their mission to restrict people’s access to this form of direct democracy. In 2017, state governments from Maine to Arizona tried to impose restrictions on the ballot measure process. In what is perhaps 2018’s most meta, yet anti-democratic, ballot measure trend, conservatives are using ballot measures to attack ballot measures. So far, anti-ballot measure initiatives have been filed in South Dakota and Maine. BISC is also tracking a wave of anti-ballot measure legislation in statehouses across the country. There’s currently pending legislation aiming to curtail citizen initiatives in six states.