By Amanda Zoch
As of Nov. 6, voters have passed at least 85 of 124 statewide ballot measures, with a handful still waiting to be called—especially in the western states.
The biggest trend is no surprise: All marijuana measures passed. Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota approved efforts to legalize recreational marijuana, while voters in South Dakota and Mississippi approved medical marijuana programs.
Washington, D.C., voters decriminalized entheogenic plants and fungi, including psilocybin. Oregonians decriminalized small amounts of certain controlled substances, such as heroin and cocaine, and the Beaver State also legalized psilocybin—becoming the first state to do so.
Another ballot measure staple, abortion, split with voters. Louisianans passed abortion restrictions, while Coloradans rejected them.
Colorado voters also approved paid family and medical leave—the first state in the nation to do so through a ballot measure. Other firsts in the Centennial State include the restoration of gray wolves—which passed with a tight margin.
Measures requiring that only a citizen can vote passed in Alabama, Colorado and Florida. Federal law already stipulates that voters must be citizens, so these measures likely won’t have any major effects—except in Colorado. There, the change means that 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the time of a general election will no longer be able to cast ballots in the state’s primaries.
Other election reforms have fared less well. Floridians rejected a citizen initiative that would have established a top-two primary and open primary system. Ranked-choice voting failed in Massachusetts and looks likely to fail in Alaska, as well. California voters rejected a legislative referral that would have allowed 17-year-olds to vote in primaries, though voters in the Golden State did opt for felon voting rights reform by passing Proposition 17, which automatically restores voting rights after incarceration. And in Colorado, voters supported the legislature’s decision to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
With redistricting right around the corner, measures to alter the process passed in Missouri, New Jersey and Virginia. In Missouri, voters reversed their 2018 decision to use a state demographer as the primary map drawer. Old Dominion voters adopted a redistricting commission, and that change means that the majority of states will now have a commission of some kind, though some are merely advisory, or only come into being if the legislature fails to pass maps.
Health topics—in addition to medical marijuana—were big on ballots this year, and voters decided to approve taxes on tobacco and vapor products in Colorado and Oregon. Washington passed Referendum 90, which requires public schools to provide comprehensive sex education beginning in 2022. Californians rejected a citizen initiative to establish certain requirements for kidney dialysis clinics.
In terms of civil and criminal justice, California voters rejected stricter parole and sentencing policies and stopped the legislature’s efforts to replace cash bail with pretrial risk assessments. Kentucky voters passed Marsy’s Law, the crime victims’ bill of rights. Both Nebraska and Utah decided to remove language allowing slavery as a punishment from their constitutions.
Taxes, another hot topic, broke in both directions, with voters in some states opting for higher taxes and others choosing tax deductions. A measure to reduce the state’s income tax passed in Colorado, while a measure to increase income taxes on those making over $250,000 a year passed in Arizona. The legislative effort in Illinois to remove the state’s flat income tax rate failed. Coloradans decided to repeal the Gallagher Amendment, which set property tax assessment rates in the state constitution. Property tax changes in California are still too close to call.
Some other notable measures include:
- Florida voters chose to raise the minimum wage.
- California’s Proposition 22, the most expensive ballot measure campaign in American history, passed; it will classify most app-based transportation and delivery drivers as independent contractors, not employees.
- Iowa voters decided not to hold a constitutional convention—no surprise there.
- An effort to overturn California’s affirmative action ban failed.
- Two “Stand Your Ground” measures passed in Alabama.
- Mississippians approved the state’s new magnolia flag design, which was put before voters after the legislature decided to replace the previous flag, which featured the Confederate battle emblem.
- Sports betting passed in Maryland and South Dakota.
- Puerto Rico voted “yes” on statehood—though further action rests with Congress.
Find the latest updates on NCSL’s State Elections 2020 webpage and statewide ballot measures database.
Amanda Zoch is a Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow and policy specialist in NCSL's Elections & Redistricting Program.