By Wendy Underhill
Voters in 41 states and the District of Columbia will face 147 statewide ballot measures—those policy questions on which voters get to be the final deciders.
By far the most common way for measures to get to the ballot this year was for legislatures to refer them to the ballot. Legislative referrals account for 101 of this year’s crop. Thirty-five questions made their way to the ballot through “the initiative process,” where citizens—sometimes aided by the professional initiative industry—gathered signatures to promote a cause. The rest are a mix of popular referenda, when citizens try to repeal a recently enacted law, and advisory questions, where the outcome does not have the effect of the law.
The 2014 menu of ballot measures has a lot of meat—plus a wide variety of side dishes. The one item that is missing from the smorgasbord is marriage, a mainstay on ballots for almost twenty years. Here are few meaty (or otherwise) measures voters will decide:
- Medical marijuana (Guam and Florida)
- Recreational marijuana (Alaska, the District of Columbia and Oregon)
- Labeling foods that contain genetically modified organisms (Colorado and Oregon)
- Allowing terminally ill patients to access drugs that have not yet made it through the whole approval process (Arizona)
- Background checks for purchasing guns (two opposing measures in Washington)
- Elections policies such as same day registration (Montana), “top two” primaries (Oregon) and early voting (Connecticut and Missouri)
- Setting state minimum wages (Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota—noting that a judge may remove the Arkansas one from the ballot later this week)
- Tax policy (too many states to name)
- Gambling (Rhode Island’s Question 1 would allow casino gaming; Colorado and South Dakota have measures to expand gaming; and Massachusetts with a measure to end gambling even before it has begun)
- Transportation funding and finance (Louisiana, Maryland, Rhode Island, Texas and Wisconsin)
Additionally, and traditionally, voters will be asked to engage in some ballot-box budgeting: They’ll vote on bonds. For instance, Mainers will weigh in on six bonds that share a common theme of juicing the economy. Californians will decide the fate of a long-awaited $7 billion water storage and conservation measure. Hawaiians will have their say on a much smaller plan assist dam and reservoir owners. In New York, a yes vote on an education bond would put $2 billion more in the system.
If you aren’t voting on any of these topics, why should you care? Because ballot measures serve as public policy “bellwethers” of change. Votes on these and other measures may give legislators a hint about issues the may face on the chamber floor this coming year.
To see details on all 147 measures, visit NCSL’s Ballot Measures Database. That’s a good place to bookmark for Nov. 4, too. We’ll be adding results as they come rolling in.
Wendy Underhill is program manager for elections at NCSL.