What’s at stake on state ballot measures
We’ve been inundated with information about the two presidential candidates, Vice President Joe Biden and incumbent President Donald Trump. And you’ve probably even heard about some down-ballot races, especially those that could flip from Republican to Democrat or vice versa. But if you’ve looked at your mail-in ballot or a sample ballot online, you may have noticed some other choices you’ll need to make: ballot measures. States call them different things—propositions, amendments, issues—and they cover a range of issues, but they all are opportunities to make your voice heard on issues that matter to you.
Here’s what at stake on state ballot measures this election season for 5 key issues.
If you care about voting…
Since grade school, we have learned about one of our most sacred rights in the United States: the right to vote. What we often don’t learn is the individuals who are excluded from that right. In ballot measures across the country, states are battling with questions of expanding or shrinking their electorates. Take California, for example, which could join 15 other states who allow individuals convicted of felonies to vote after they are released from prison if Proposition 17 is approved. Meanwhile, voters in Alabama, Colorado, and Florida will have to decide whether to change language in state law that says that “every citizen” 18 or older can vote to “only a citizen” 18 or above can vote. What would a “yes” vote mean on these measures? It would codify into law the creation of groups who are citizens and 18 or older, but cannot vote (e.g., individuals with felony convictions).
Alabama, Amendment 1: If approved, state law would be changed to say “only a citizen of the United States has the right to vote.”
California, Proposition 17: If Proposition 17 is approved, then individuals convicted of felonies who are currently on parole would have their voting rights restored.
California, Proposition 18: Proposition 18 would expand the electorate to include 17-year-olds by giving them the opportunity to vote in primaries and special elections, as long as they turned 18 by the next general election. It has been most prominently endorsed by the California Democratic Party, the ACLU of Southern California, and current California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Colorado, Amendment 76: If approved, state law would be changed to say “only a citizen of the United States has the right to vote.”
Florida, Amendment 1: If approved, state law would be changed to say “only a citizen of the United States has the right to vote.”
Nevada, State Question 4: This would add the Voters’ Bill of Rights, codified into law at the state level in 2002, into the State Constitution, adding further legitimacy to key protections for voters.
If you care about reproductive rights…
Attacks on abortion access are not new, and since 2011, 400 state laws have been passed aiming to restrict abortion access. Restricting an important form of healthcare for women has become even more egregious during a global pandemic, but two states—Colorado and Louisiana—have groups that are still seeking to restrict access to abortion care through ballot measures this year. Meanwhile, voters in Washington will have the opportunity to voice support for Senate Bill 5395, which would require comprehensive sex education in all public schools, starting in sixth grade.
Colorado, Proposition 115: Proposition 115 would prohibit abortions after 15 weeks. This isn’t the first time anti-choice groups have pushed to get anti-abortion measures on the ballot in the state, and it’s unlikely to be the last.
Louisiana, Amendment 1: If passed, this amendment would add language to the state constitution asserting that there is no right to an abortion or to state funding for abortions. Restrictions like this affect those who already are least likely to be able to afford an abortion and most at risk for serious health concerns.
Washington, Referendum 90: A vote yes on this referendum supports making Senate Bill 5395 law, which would require that all public schools teach comprehensive sex education. Students would be excused if their parents requested they not participate.
If you care about criminal justice reform…
This year, there are numerous ballot measures concerning criminal justice issues. From changes to cash bail to legalizing marijuana to changes in sentencing laws, criminal justice reform has risen to the top of the agenda in states across the country.
Arizona, Proposition 207: This would legalize the possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana for those 21 and older. A similar proposition was rejected by Arizona voters in 2016, but if passed, Arizona would join eleven other states who have legalized recreational marijuana.
California, Proposition 20: A yes vote on this proposition would lead to increased sentencing times for certain offenses, as well as restrict who can access parole programs for non-violent offenders. The proposed proposition has led to clashes between proponents, including many local sheriffs, and opponents, like Former Governor Jerry Brown.
California, Proposition 25: If approved, this proposition would end cash bail in California, a key component of many reform advocates’ agendas. However, the wording of the proposition and potential unintended consequences has led to opposition from some progressive groups like the NAACP.
Kentucky, Amendment 1: This amendment would add Marsy’s Law, a list of rights for victims of crimes, to the state constitution. The ACLU of Kentucky strongly opposes this amendment, arguing that the language is confusing and state law already protects most of the rights listed in Marsy’s law.
Kentucky, Amendment 2: If approved, circuit court clerks, commonwealth's attorneys, county attorneys, and district judges’ term lengths would be increased and licensing requirements for these roles would change.
Mississippi, Ballot Measure 1: This ballot measure would legalize medical marijuana for individuals with qualifying medical conditions. Mississippi would join 33 other states who have legalized medical marijuana.
Montana, CI-118: If approved, CI-118 would allow the state to create “a minimum legal age for the possession, use, and purchase of marijuana.” Montana would join eleven other states who have legalized recreational marijuana.
Montana, I-190: This would legalize the possession and use of limited amounts of marijuana for individuals over 21. It would also create a 20% tax for non-medical marijuana.
New Jersey, Public Question 1: If approved, Public Question 1 would legalize the possession and use of marijuana for adults at least 21 years of age. New Jersey would join eleven other states who have legalized recreational marijuana.
Oregon, Measure 109: If approved, after a two-year development period, licensed providers could administer psilocybin, the main ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms, to individuals 21 and older.
Oregon, Measure 110: Measure 110 would make Oregon the first state to decriminalize drugs other than marijuana, such as cocaine and heroin. It also would fund “health assessments, addiction treatment, harm reduction and other services for people with addiction disorders by reallocating cannabis tax dollars and savings from law enforcement making fewer drug arrests.”
South Dakota, Initiated Measure 26: This ballot measure would legalize medical marijuana for individuals with qualifying medical conditions. South Dakota would join 33 other states who have legalized medical marijuana.
South Dakota, Constitutional Amendment A: If approved, South Dakota would legalize the sale, possession, and use of marijuana for those 21 and older. It would also require South Dakota to pass medical marijuana laws by April 2022. South Dakota would join eleven other states who have legalized recreational marijuana.
If you care about gun violence…
As of late October 2020, over 34,000 Americans have died due to gun violence in 2020 alone. Yet, even with gun violence ravaging our communities, some states are still seeking to relax restrictions on guns and gun ownership. Two amendments in Alabama would apply “stand your ground” laws to churches in select counties in the state. And in Montana, LR-130 seeks to prohibit local governments from restricting guns, including concealed carry, leaving local authorities powerless to prevent gun violence in their own communities.
Alabama, Amendment 5: This amendment would apply “stand your ground” laws to church-goers in Franklin county.
Alabama, Amendment 6: This amendment would apply “stand your ground” laws to church-goers in Lauderdale county.
Montana, LR-130: A yes vote on LR-130 would restrict local authorities’ rights to prohibit concealed carry, among other gun laws.
If you care about racial justice…
2020 has seen racial tensions come to a head in states across the country, and people have taken to the streets to march for their right to be free from police violence and affirm “Black Lives Matter.” Ballot measures in Mississippi, Nebraska, Rhode Island, and Utah give voters an opportunity to make long-needed changes to racist symbols and language, including officially banning all forms of slavery in state constitutions (in 2020!!). Although symbolic, these measures could help push forward racial progress in this country. However, it is important to remember that these are only a first step; other measures listed above can also lead to progress on racial justice.
Mississippi, Ballot Measure 3: Voters can choose whether to approve a new state flag created by the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag that does not include the Confederate Battle Flag and includes the text “In God We Trust.”
Nebraska, Amendment 1: This amendment would repeal an exception in the state constitution that allows for slavery as a form of punishment for a crime.
Rhode Island, Question 1: A vote yes on Question 1 would remove "Providence Plantations” from the state’s official name.
Utah, Constitutional Amendment C: This amendment would repeal an exception in the state constitution that allows for slavery as a form of punishment for a crime.