In addition to voting for senators, governors, representatives and the president, voters in 32 states will also decide on ballot measures in this election.
This year, a lot of the ballot measures concern election policy, says Josh Altic, a project director for Ballotpedia. Voters will decide on changes to the redistricting process, term limits, suffrage and campaign finance laws, he says.
In Colorado, voters will decide whether gray wolves should be reintroduced to the wild. And Mississippi voters will make a decision on a new state flag design after a confederate emblem was removed earlier this year.
Only Vs. Every
Voters in Alabama, Colorado and Florida will decide whether to change existing constitutional language, to say, “Only a citizen of the United States who is 18 years old or older has the right to vote” rather than, “every citizen of the United States.”
Despite that this measure wouldn’t result in any practical changes, the question is getting a lot of positive and negative attention, Altic says. Most states already require citizenship to vote, he says, but there are a few exceptions in local elections such as school boards.
“The effect that proponents are going for is a more preemptive one. They're saying we see this trend towards possibly letting people who are not proven citizens vote, especially in local elections. And we want to head that off,” he says. “Opponents think this is a kind of a scheme to get attention on an issue that's not an issue. Some people think it's maybe an effort to get turnout among a certain demographic.”
Legalizing Marijuana — And Magic Mushrooms
Recreational marijuana is on the ballot this year in Montana, South Dakota, New Jersey and Arizona. The measure failed in Arizona in 2016.
Failed ballot measures get a second attempt about half the time, Altic says. Public opinion on cannabis has drastically shifted in the last decade, he says, but Arizona’s measure was unique because the opposition spent as much money as its supporters.
“The initiative process is especially susceptible to trends,” he says. “So if you have a trend like marijuana that's had huge success at the ballot and been successful in nine states, and even probably moved some states like Illinois, Vermont to legalize directly, then why not try again?”
If the measure passes, federal funding and enforcement would be an issue in Washington D.C., he says, but less so in Oregon.
From the perspective of advocates, Oregon’s measure is “very conservative,” he says. Users would need to go to a center and stay under observation while using the mushrooms.
“The proponents of the use of psilocybin as a sort of a part of society would just love to see this trend have the success that marijuana does,” he says.
‘A Referendum On Uber’
In California, every election seems to be stacked with important ballot propositions. This year, the key measure is Proposition 22, which marks the first time a question about gig economy policy will appear on a statewide ballot, Altic says.
Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Postmates all back the measure, which would reclassify drivers as independent contractors instead of employees. The measure is a defense against a bill passed in 2019 that would reclassify drivers as employees rather than independent contractors, he says.
For these companies, classifying drivers as independent contractors without having to meet minimum wage or health insurance requirements is key to the business model, he says.
The measure includes a wage floor and other measures to protect the drivers, he says. This decision will set precedent for the future of gig economy policy, he says, so the measure serves as “a referendum on Uber.”
“[Companies are] not just thinking about California, even though California is probably huge for them. They're thinking about the entire country,” he says. “This is a policy area that is new. And so a lot of states are going to be considering it. And whether it passes in November is going to indicate a lot about what direction this policy area will go in sort of going forward.”
Who Funds These Campaigns?
Voters living in a state with a key proposition on the ballot are likely being bombarded with ads urging them to vote yes or no.
When it comes to funding, companies are often on one side of a ballot measure, Altic says. In Alaska, a question about oil and gas taxes has an obvious opponent — oil and gas companies.
National advocates and different groups also take strong positions on ballot measures, he says.
“Whenever you have sort of a national movement behind a measure in a specific state, there's a lot more money involved, whether it's taxes for education or something like that,” he says. “You have these sort of national groups paying money and then individuals get involved.”
The second most expensive ballot measure of the year is in Illinois, where Gov. J. B. Pritzker has spent $55 million to support a graduated income tax rather than a flat tax rate, Altic says. On the other side of the measure, the CEO of Chicago-based hedge fund Citadel is funding the opposition campaign.
“It really does vary from individuals who get passionate about a topic to companies that have a vested interest in the policy to organizations that just exist to advocate for that policy,” he says.
This segment aired on October 21, 2020.