By Patrick Potyondy
If you tuned in to any of the major TV networks last night, you saw all the focus placed on the election of candidates—for the U.S. House and Senate, governorships and legislatures across the nation (which NCSL has tracked up to the second here).
But the voters also weighed in on major policy issues facing the country. Across 37 states and with more than 150 statewide ballot measures, voters essentially enacted policy on some of the most pressing issues of our day—elections, redistricting, health care, criminal justice, energy and the environment and more.
Here is a brief rundown of some of the major issues voters decided upon (although all measures have not been called). For details on every measure passed this year, be sure to check NCSL’s statewide ballot measure database.
Elections and Redistricting
Perhaps the major election issue of the night: the passage of an amendment in Florida that re-enfranchises individuals with a felony conviction after they serve their sentence—about 1.4 million people total and predominately African-Americans (the measure excludes murder and sexual crimes).
The pendulum swung in the opposite direction in Louisiana, were felons are now barred from holding public office for five years after serving their sentences. Maryland passed Election Day registration. Nevada will now have automatic voter registration. And Michigan passed its measure that included a package of policies from automatic voter registration to post-election auditing. In a different direction, voter photo ID requirements passed in Arkansas and North Carolina.
Redistricting reform had a good night. Colorado voters passed both its measures with 70 percent of the vote, falling just short of Ohio’s 75 percent margin when that state passed redistricting reform earlier in the year. Michigan voters also approved a redistricting commission with 61 percent, and Missourians passed their measure with 62 percent. Utah’s measure is still up in the air, although it leads slightly with about 75 percent of the vote counted.
Voters also seemed keen on endorsing ethics-related issues with measures passing in Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, New Mexico and North Dakota.
Medicaid expansion has been the big story here. After Maine voters passed it last year, Idaho, Nebraska and Utah all put it on their ballots. Idaho passed it with more than 60 percent of the vote. Nebraska also passed expansion with 53 percent of the vote, and Utah’s measure is leading with about 54 percent of the vote and 75 percent reporting.
In California, voters chose not to regulate dialysis costs, but they did make sure EMTs receive paid on-call breaks and that bonds were authorized for children’s hospitals. Massachusetts voters decided not to limit the number of patients that hospital nurses could care for at one time.
Michigan became the first Midwestern state to pass recreational marijuana, while North Dakota declined to legalize. Marsy’s Law, what is often called a crime victims bill of rights, was passed in all six states in which it appeared. The exception that allowed slavery to be used as punishment for a crime was removed by Colorado’s voters. Louisiana will now require unanimous juries to convict people of capital felonies. Ohioans declined to reform their drug laws and dedicate savings to rehabilitation. And Washingtonians in the Northwest passed a significant reform of how police use-of-force is justified.
Energy and the Environment
Generally, voters were split on efforts to pass environmental protections. Alaskans declined to enact a measure that would have required permits and higher protection standards for salmon waters. In Colorado, voters declined to require larger setbacks for new oil and gas drilling. Washington voters declined to enact the first carbon fee in the nation. And on a measure that would have required 50 percent renewable energy in the state by 2030, Arizona’s voters said “no” by 70 percent.
On the flip side, Nevadans said “yes” to the same issue in their state (by 60 percent). And Florida voters passed a ban on off-shore drilling.
Additional Major Issues
Two of the three abortion restriction measures passed last night, in Alabama and West Virginia. Oregon voters rejected the proposed restriction.
On the minimum wage front, gradual increases passed in Arkansas and Missouri (Washington, D.C., passed an increase earlier in the year, although the city council soon repealed it).
On a final issue that has attracted national attention, Washington passed its gun safety reform measure by 60 percent.
Patrick Potyondy is a Mellon-ACLS public fellow and a legislative policy specialist with NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.