WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE BALLOT MEASURE LANDSCAPE RIGHT NOW
The 2023 ballot measure landscape is solidified. Thirty-two measures in 6 states have been certified for the ballot and nine have already been voted on in early special elections in Louisiana (October), Oklahoma (March), Ohio (August) and Wisconsin (April).
BISC’s 2023 Priority Campaigns:
- Ohio Issue 1 — Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights: Through Issue 1, the statewide reproductive freedom amendment, Ohio voters will decide whether to enshrine abortion protections into the state constitution. A win in Ohio will continue the momentum that began in 2022 after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade of protecting and expanding reproductive freedom through the power of direct democracy. Passing amendment 1 will also prevent abortion from being banned at six weeks into pregnancy.
- Cleveland Issue 39 — People’s Budget Cleveland: Cleveland voters will vote on whether to adopt a charter amendment that would give residents the ability to decide how 2% of the city budget is spent using participatory budgeting, or a People’s Budget.
- Ohio Issue 2 — Marijuana Legalization Initiative: Ohioans have the opportunity to legalize recreational marijuana this November through Amendment 2. If passed by voters, Amendment 2 would: Allow the sale and purchase of marijuana, which a new Division of Cannabis Control would regulate; Allow adults who are at least 21 years old to use and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana; Enact a 10% tax on marijuana sales.
- Maine Question 2 — Protect Maine Elections: Protect Maine Elections is a nonpartisan, grassroots campaign launched by Maine citizens from across the political spectrum for the sole purpose of passing a groundbreaking citizen’s initiative to eliminate foreign influence and corruption in Maine elections.
- Maine Question 3 — Pine Tree Power: Pine Tree Power is a grassroots coalition fighting for a utility that is owned and run by Mainers, for Mainers. By voting out Maine’s two investor-owned corporate utility companies, Central Maine Power (CMP) and Versant, Mainers can bring back local control, save money, and reduce outages.
- Maine Question 6: Require Indian Treaty Obligations and Other Constitutional Provisions Included in Official Printing Amendment: Question 6 is part of a broader plan to enable tribal nations in Maine to be autonomous and able to interact with the federal government for Indian focused programs. Right now, Native Mainers miss out on those services because Maine treats tribal governments like municipalities. Using the ballot initiative process as an avenue for strengthening tribal sovereignty could prove to be a powerful new tool for tribes across the country moving forward.
- Colorado — Proposition HH: Proposition HH is a referred measure that will appear on Colorado’s November ballot. If passed by voters, Proposition HH would provide the largest property tax reductions in Colorado history, while still preserving funding for the critical services that rely on property tax revenue, like public schools.
Initiatives Voted on in Early Special Elections:
- Ohio — Direct Democracy (Failed on Ballot 8/8/23): If passed by voters, Issue 1 would have created a 60% supermajority threshold for passing ballot measures in the state, ending the sacred principle of “one person, one vote” and enshrining minority rule in Ohio. Luckily, voters saw past this anti-democratic power grab and overwhelmingly rejected Issue 1.
- Oklahoma – Criminal Legal Reform (Failed on Ballot 3/7/23): State Question 820: Would have legalized marijuana for adults 21 years old and older. The initiative would also have provided a process for individuals to seek the expungement or modification of certain previous marijuana-related convictions or sentences.
- Louisiana – Democracy (On Ballot 11/18/23): Provides that the legislature may consider vetoed bills during a regular or extraordinary session rather than convening a separate veto session; clarifies that the governor’s deadline to act on a bill is based on the legislative session in which the bill was passed.
- New York – Fiscal Policy (On Ballot 11/7/23): Removes the debt limitation of 5% in property valuations for small city school districts.
- Wisconsin – Criminal Legal Reform & Economic Justice (All passed on Ballot 4/4/23):
- Question 1: Conditions of release before conviction. Shall section 8 (2) of article I of the constitution be amended to allow a court to impose on an accused person being released before conviction conditions that are designed to protect the community from serious harm?
- Question 2: Cash bail before conviction. Shall section 8 (2) of article I of the constitution be amended to allow a court to impose cash bail on a person accused of a violent crime based on the totality of the circumstances, including the accused’s previous convictions for a violent crime, the probability that the accused will fail to appear, the need to protect the community from serious harm and prevent witness intimidation, and potential affirmative defenses.
- Advisory Question: Shall able-bodied, childless adults be required to look for work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits?
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 the 2022 election cycle was an influx of reproductive rights ballot measures. We are already seeing these trends continue in the measures being introduced for 2023 and 2024 statewide ballots.
BISC is tracking measures across every issue area that have been introduced for the 2024 election. Let’s break it down:
ATTACKS ON THE BALLOT MEASURE PROCESS:
Current State of Attacks:
BISC is currently tracking 45 measures that would impact the initiative process in 16 states. Three have been certified for the November ballot.
On Ballot 2024:
1. Arizona [OPPOSE]: Require signatures from 10% of qualified voters in each legislative district to qualify initiated state statutes for the ballot and would require signatures from 15% of qualified voters in each legislative district to qualify initiated constitutional amendments for the ballot.
2. California [SUPPORT]: Require initiatives that change vote thresholds to supermajority votes to pass by the same vote requirement as is being proposed.
3. North Dakota [OPPOSE]: Requires a single-subject for initiatives and requires proposed constitutional initiatives to appear on the ballot and be approved at the primary and general election to become effective.
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 bills seeking to restrict or alter the ballot measure process. In 2023 legislative sessions, 139 bills were introduced in 35 states that would impact the ballot initiative process, 58 of which would restrict or undermine the process.
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
- Transforming public safety
History of Abortion on the Ballot Since 1970
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.
Between 1970-2021, there were 40 ballot measures related to abortion on statewide ballots — 34 of which were attacks. Thirty-four attack measures 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 were only six proactive measures related to abortion introduced between 1970-2021, four of which were approved by voters. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, this trend has accelerated at unprecedented levels.
What Happened in 2022:
In November of 2022, voters in Michigan, Vermont, and California codified the right to an abortion in their state constitutions. Voters in Kansas, Montana, and Kentucky also turned out in droves and rejected the harmful anti-choice measures that appeared on their statewide ballots.
These victories support what we’ve learned and shared over the years: Ballot measures transcend party lines and often receive higher turnout than candidates.
What’s in Store for 2024:
BISC is currently tracking 16 reproductive/health rights measures in 13 states for 2024. One has been certified for the November ballot.
- Maryland: Establishes a right to reproductive freedom in the state constitution.
Reproductive Freedom Campaigns Underway that Could Appear on the Ballot:
- Florida [cleared for circulation]: No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider. This amendment does not change the Legislature’s constitutional authority to require notification to a parent or guardian before a minor has an abortion
- Missouri [multiple versions cleared for circulation]: The Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative
As 2024 draws closer, we expect to see this trend continue as more states continue to qualify reproductive freedom amendments for 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]