When voters take to the polls on Tuesday, they’ll do more than elect representatives to pass laws on their behalf. They’ll do some policymaking of their own.
Across 41 states and the District of Columbia, voters will weigh in on 147 ballot measures on issues ranging from minimum wages to marijuana legalization to the labeling of genetically modified food to gun policy to taking on $18 billion in debt. If all are approved, two states and the District will legalize marijuana for recreational use, two states will require genetically modified foods to carry labels indicating that fact, gambling and gaming will be restricted in some states and allowed in others, Georgia will cap its income tax, and Washington state will—paradoxically—simultaneously ban and require firearm background checks.
Of course, not all measures will be approved. Nearly one-quarter of the questions on this year’s ballot are citizen-led initiatives, a policymaking tool with a roughly 2 in 5 historical chance of passing, according to data compiled by the Initiative & Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California. (Since 1904, some 2,421 state initiatives have appeared on state ballots with just 984 having been approved.) Of this year’s 146 state measures, 35 are initiatives — the lowest number in an even-year election in 40 years.
The low number of initiatives aside, voters will be weighing in on a number of significant policies on Tuesday. Here’s a breakdown of what’s on the ballot:
The 2014 ballot by issue
Four states will consider minimum wage hikes and a fifth will ask voters their opinion on a hike.
- Alaskans will consider raising their hourly minimum wage from $7.75 to $8.75 next year and again to $9.75 in 2016. After that, increases would be tied to inflation.
- Arkansas will consider raising its hourly minimum wage from below the federal minimum of $7.25 to $7.50 at the start of 2015, increasing it 50 cents in 2016 and again in 2017.
- Voters in Nebraska will consider increasing the state’s hourly minimum wage from the federal level to $8 next year and $9 the year after that.
- If approved, Measure 18 in South Dakota would raise the hourly minimum wage from the federal level to $8.50 next year and tie future increases to inflation.
- (Illinois voters will consider a non-binding measure on raising the hourly minimum wage from $8.25 to $10 next year.)
Voters in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., will vote on different forms of marijuana legalization, as voters in Colorado and Washington famously did in 2012. Floridians will consider legalizing medical marijuana. Polling so far suggests there are no clear winners on these questions.
Genetically modified food labels
Measures in Oregon and Colorado to require the labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients have drawn millions of dollars from food industry groups who say the labels are unnecessary and GMOs are harmless. Proponents of the measure say they are concerned by the presence of GMOs in their food and that, if such ingredients are harmless, what’s the harm in labeling them?
North Dakota and Colorado will weigh “personhood” amendments to their state constitutions. Each would enshrine and expand rights to the unborn, with opponents suggesting the measures would have unintended consequences, such as putting an end to in vitro fertilization, banning some forms of birth control and restricting access to abortion providers.
Tennessee’s Amendment 1 would lay the foundation for future abortion restrictions by amending the state constitution to explicitly make clear that nothing in it “secures or protects right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.”
Seven states will consider gambling measures. Massachusetts’s question is among the most substantive, as it would reverse a 2011 law that would allow three casinos to be built in the state. It has attracted more than $12 million in campaign spending, virtually all of it by Penn National Gaming, MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts in opposition of the measure.
Californians will approve or reject a compact to allow a local Indian tribe to operate an off-reservation casino, while Coloradans will weigh allowing betting at a select few horse tracks.
Dueling measures in Washington state would alternately require and prohibit universal background checks. Initiative 591 would ban background checks on firearms, unless in compliance with federal standards. Only about $1.2 million has been raised in the fight over the measure, all of it raised for Protect Our Gun Rights, a group pushing the measure. Initiative 594 would require universal background checks on gun purchases, with supporters having raised more than $11.2 million, with most of that money raised by the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, according to a review of state finance records. That group has received major funding tied to billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Bill Gates, including his Microsoft associates former chief executive Steve Ballmer and wife Connie and co-founder Paul Allen. Two recent polls show nearly 2-to-1 support for universal background checks.
Alabama and Mississippi will consider a constitutional amendment to make clear that residents “have the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife,” subject to regulation.
Taxes and bonds
There are 15 tax-related measures on the ballot, most of them limited in scope, according to the Initiative & Referendum Institute. An amendment in Georgia, however, would cap future income tax increase, which proponents say will show businesses and individuals the state is committeed to keeping rates low, as its neighboring states are.
Voters in seven states will also be asked to approve a total $18 billion in new debt. California’s Proposition 1 would authorize more than $11 billion for water infrastructure projects. California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has urged voters to approve, and its prospects are bright, according to recent polls.
Big spending on the ballot
California is home to what are among the most expensive ballot fights in the nation. A pair of health care-related measures — propositions 45 and 46 — have generated at least $130 million in combined contributions, largely from insurers, doctors and lawyers.
Proposition 46 would introduce a pair of controversial changes to the state’s health care system: introducing random drug and alcohol tests of doctors and more than quadrupling the limit on pain-and-suffering damages awarded in medical malpractice lawsuits. The fight over the measure may be the nation’s most expensive, having raised $70 million in campaign contributions as of Oct. 24, according to a review of finance records by Ballotpedia, an edited political encyclopedia.
Proposition 45 would require health insurers to get approval from the state before taking any action that would change rates. Nearly $63 million had been raised for the fight over Proposition 45, as of Oct. 24. Almost $57 million of that raised by the campaign opposed to the measure, virtually all of the money coming from health insurers or associated businesses.
While not nearly as high expensive, Oregon’s Measure 92 is also noteworthy. The fight over the measure, which would require foods with genetically modified ingredients be labeled as such, has raised more than $25.3 million, a new state record. The previous record of $15.8 million was set in 2007 during a fight over a cigarette tax hike, according to the Associated Press. Opponents of this year’s GMO labeling proposal alone have outraised the total for that cigarette tax measure. The Vote No on 92 Coalition raised $16.3 million largely from corporate giants such as DuPont, Monsanto, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Kraft.
The 2014 ballot measures by the numbers
The vast majority of the measures on the ballot in the states and the District of Columbia — 104 — were placed there by legislatures, and four were referendums.
Which states are most active
Louisiana will allow voters to weigh in on 14 issues directly this year, more than any other state. New Mexico and North Dakota are tied for second, with eight questions each, including a controversial amendment to the North Dakota constitution that would extend rights to the unborn. Maine, Oregon and Rhode Island will each pose seven questions to voters.