The NCSL Blog


By Wendy Underhill

StateVote logoWhile the drama of Election 2016 was clear in terms of actors—Republicans had a good day in most nooks and crannies—the plot thickened when it came to statewide ballot measures.

Marijuana was approved in seve out of the nine states where it was on the ballot. Arizona voters said no. For Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota, that means medical marijuana was approved. In California, Massachusetts and Nevada, recreational marijuana got the nod. In Maine, the count continued Wednesday morning on a measure approving recreational use. With 91 percent of the vote counted, the measure was leading by a thin 50.3 percent.

Minimum wage increases were approved, too, in the four states that voted on the issue: Arizona, Colorado, Washington and Maine.  Even South Dakota voters repealed last year’s newly enacted law that set a lower minimum wage for teens than for the rest of the population.

From these results on what NCSL has begun calling “the M and Ms”—marijuana and minimum wage—it might look like ballot measures were a victory for the left, but that’s just the opening scene.  

A plot twist comes with capital punishment. In Nebraska, voters overturned a recently enacted prohibition on the death penalty, so the death penalty is back. In California, voters turned down a proposed prohibition on capital punishment, and instead voted for a measure that may reduce the time it takes for a case to work its way through the legal system. And in Oklahoma, voters amended the state’s constitution to say that capital punishment is legal, even if specific methods are ruled unconstitutional.

Next, voters turned down a number of potential tax increases. Oregon’s Measure 97, that would have increased the minimum tax paid by corporations with sales (not profits) of more than $25 million, was rejected. In Oklahoma, Question 779, to increase the state sales tax by a full percentage point and put the increased revenues toward education, failed. In Louisiana, the voters said no to Amendment 3, effectively retaining the deductibility of federal income taxes from state corporate taxes.

And yet taxes were complicated overall. Mainers answered “yes” to adding a 3 percent income tax for incomes of more than $200,000, with the revenues going to K-12 education. And California’s Proposition 55, which extends a personal income tax on incomes over that same $200K threshold, passed.

The results of tobacco taxes were mixed, too. California said yes; Colorado, Missouri and North Dakota said no.

As for democracy-related measures, it was thumbs up and thumbs down. Down for a redistricting commission in South Dakota and up for ranked choice voting in Maine. Down for shifting to nonpartisan elections in South Dakota and up for two measures that will change primaries in Colorado. Down for public campaign financing in Washington and up for campaign finance measures in South Dakota and Missouri.

One place voters from across the nation could agree was on bonds. Perhaps it’s easier to approve a measure to borrow than a measure to tax.  California (Proposition 51), Maine (Question 6), Montana (Initiative 181), New Mexico (Questions A, B, C, and D), Rhode Island (Questions 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7) all passed. No bonds failed this year.

For all the details including unofficial results for the 154 statewide ballot measures this year, see NCSL’s Ballot Measures database.

Wendy Underhill is NCSL’s director of elections and redistricting.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.