The Hot Sheet

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE BALLOT MEASURE LANDSCAPE RIGHT NOW

INTRO 

BISC is currently tracking 85 statewide measures for 2023. One measure has qualified for the ballot so far – Oklahoma’s State Question 820. 

SQ 820 would legalize marijuana for adults 21 years of age and older. The initiative would also provide a process for individuals to seek the expungement or modification of certain previous marijuana-related convictions or sentences.

In November of 2022, voters in 37 states decided on 132 statewide ballot measures – with democracy, criminal legal reform, fiscal policy, and economic justice ballot measures making up the bulk of the measures we watched. BISC monitored 82 of those, 50 of which were referred by state legislators.

BALLOT MEASURES BY ISSUE AREA:

Whether it’s attacks on our democracy, measures undermining the power of governors to act in an emergency, or attempts to undermine direct democracy — democracy is the issue we saw the most of on the November 2022 ballot. Another major trend we saw in this election cycle was an influx of reproductive rights ballot measures. We are already seeing these trends continue in the measures being introduced for 2024 statewide ballots.

BISC is tracking measures across every issue area that have been introduced for the 2024 election. Let’s break it down:

  • Democracy: 29 measures
  • Initiative Process: 22 measures
  • Civil Rights: 12 measures
  • Criminal Legal Reform: 19 measures
  • Economic Justice: 10 measures
  • Education: 14 measures
  • Environmental Protection: 2 measures
  • Fiscal Policy: 18 measures
  • Health Justice: 4 measures
  • Reproductive Health/Rights: 9 measures

ATTACKS ON THE BALLOT MEASURE PROCESS:

Why are the attacks happening?

Efforts to undermine and weaken ballot measures have been increasing since the 2016 election in response to progressive wins and people-powered democracy at the ballot box. 

In many states, some politicians and wealthy special interests are trying to make it harder for voters to propose and pass ballot initiatives under the cover of so-called “reforms.” These attacks have escalated and have become more nuanced, sophisticated, and would have deeper impacts on the initiative process. These restrictive measures take a variety of forms, but they all serve the same function: to undermine the will of the people and diminish their decision-making power. BISC and our partners are fighting back against these attacks and spearheading the movement to #DefendDirectDemocracy

As we continue to face rising restrictions on voting rights, reproductive freedoms, and civil liberties, it is more important than ever to protect our freedom to shape the laws that govern us — especially through ballot initiatives. Together, we can fight against the anti-democracy initiatives that threaten our livelihoods and work to build a democracy rooted in equity and justice, where all people are treated with dignity and thrive.

What does an attack on direct democracy look like?

Some tactics used by lawmakers who are attempting to weaken the ballot initiative process include:

  • Proposing legislation to make the ballot process harder to access
  • Bringing forth legal challenges against initiatives that have been already been approved by voters
  • Blocking the implementation of ballot measures that have already passed

In 2017, BISC monitored just 33 initiative process bills. During the 2022 legislative session, BISC monitored 109 bills intended to alter or restrict the ballot initiative process.

Current State of Attacks:

There were 6 initiative process attacks on the ballot in 2022, and hostile legislatures across the country are doing everything they can to increase that number in coming elections. With 2023 legislative sessions just gearing up, 22 measures to restrict or undermine direct democracy have already been introduced in 2023.

Anti-direct democracy that were on the ballot in 2022 include:

Arizona:

  • Prop 129: Single subject requirements for ballot initiatives [PASSED]
  • Prop 132: 60% supermajority vote requirement for tax-related measures [PASSED]
  • Prop 128: Legislative alteration of ballot initiatives [FAILED]

Arkansas:

  • Issue 2: Increase the voter approval threshold on ballot initiatives from a simple majority to 60% [FAILED]

South Dakota:

  • Amendment C: Require a three-fifths vote of approval for any ballot measures that would increase taxes or fees [FAILED]

BALLOT MEASURE PROGRESS:

Progressive policies are passing at the ballot in Red, Blue, and Purple states such as Florida, Arizona, Missouri, Idaho, Minnesota, and Montana. Through the power of direct democracy, the People are transforming power, advancing racial equity, and galvanizing a new progressive base. 

Through the power of direct democracy, citizens have passed policies such as: 

  • Minimum wage increases
  • Protecting and expanding reproductive freedoms
  • Decriminalization of marijuana
  • Paid Family Leave
  • Medicaid expansion
  • Taxing the wealthy
  • Restoration of voting rights
  • Reparations
  • Transforming public safety

Trends from the Bench:

Legal challenges are an unavoidable step in the initiative process. Opponents use them to disrupt, stall, or exhaust progressive campaigns. In recent years, Republican politicians have launched legal challenges against progressive initiatives to either block implementation or restrict the initiative process as a whole. There are three key stages of litigation: implementation, campaign, and legislation.

Implementation: Legal challenge to halt or alter implementation of successful ballot measure. 

Campaign: Legal challenge to halt or delay progress of ballot measure campaign. For example, in Michigan there was a lawsuit seeking to disqualify the anti-emergency powers measure. 

Legislation: Legal challenge to repeal or delay legislation altering ballot measure process. For example, direct democracy advocates in states like Idaho, Florida, Ohio, and Missouri are suing to block laws that undermine the ballot initiative process such as a 60% voter approval threshold, onerous circulator requirements, and individual contribution limits. In a recent win for defending direct democracy, the Idaho Supreme Court upheld the People’s fundamental right to legislate by striking down the increased geographic distribution requirement that the Idaho legislature imposed in the 2021 legislative session.

Examples

Arizona: A tremendous blow to education funding came down when the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the Prop 208 funds are “compulsory transfers of tax revenue” and not grants, directly contradicting the ballot language. Grants are not subject to the state’s education spending cap. The court went further and determined that if the Maricopa County Superior Court finds that Prop 208 will exceed the spending cap, then the entire law is unconstitutional. Prop 208 is projected to raise an estimated $827 million annually, $600 million above the spending cap.

Mississippi: The Mississippi Supreme Court struck down the entire initiative process, stating that it is impossible to follow as written and that the legislature will have to amend the constitution for it to be workable. The court invalidated the signatures gathered for a medical marijuana initiative and prevented the law, which passed with 74% voter approval, from going into effect. The initiative process is effectively repealed unless and until the legislature amends the state constitution.

History of Abortion on the Ballot Since 1970

Overview

We know that Americans overwhelmingly support access to abortion and reproductive freedom, making it more important than ever for voters to use the power of direct democracy in order to directly influence the future of abortion access. Despite anti-choice lawmakers’ efforts, ballot initiatives can secure our reproductive freedoms.

Since 1970, there have been 40 ballot measures related to abortion — 34 have been attacks. Thirty-four attack measures have occurred in 17 states, with some states facing multiple attacks on the same subject year after year. Only 10 of those 34 attack measures have passed in 50 years.


With the protections of Roe v. Wade in place, there have been only six proactive measures related to abortion introduced between 1970-2021. Four of those six proactive measures have been approved by voters.


Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, this trend has accelerated at unprecedented levels.

In November of 2022, voters in Michigan, Vermont, and California codified the right to an abortion in their state constitutions.

As the first state to vote directly on the right to abortion following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Kansas voters used their power to overwhelmingly strike down the “Value Them Both” amendment in August of 2022, allowing abortion to remain safe and legal in Kansas. Nearly 20 percent of Kansas voters came out just to vote on the amendment — which received over 140,000 more votes than the two gubernatorial primaries combined. These numbers support what we’ve learned and shared over the years: Ballot measures transcend party lines and often receive higher turnout than candidates.

Similar to the vote in Kansas, voters in Kentucky and Montana turned out in droves this November and rejected the harmful anti-choice measures that appeared on their statewide ballots.

For more information on our analysis or to schedule an interview with one of our policy experts, please contact our Strategic Communications Director, Caroline Sanchez Avakian at [email protected]