State Ballot Measures and Legislative Races
Voters in six states addressed 31 statewide ballot measures Nov. 5, and the overwhelming answer was “yes.” Of the 31 measures, 27 passed.
Two of the four exceptions to the positive trend were high profile issues:
In Colorado, Amendment 66, a $950 million tax increase to fund Pre-K-12th grade education, was voted down by a two-to-one margin. Amendment 66 was by far the largest tax-related ballot measure in the nation. Opposition centered on the tax increase itself, and the proposed creation of a two-tiered income tax, instead of Colorado’s current flat tax.
In Washington, Initiative 522, which would have required labeling for foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), was defeated 54 to 46 percent. In 2012, Californians turned down a similar measure for the Golden State.
Voters in Washington also turned down Initiative 517, which would have made signature-gathering to put initiatives on the ballot easier.
The fourth ballot measure to fail was to New York’s Proposal 6, which would have increased the retirement age for judges on New York’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals from 70 to 80.
Getting to Yes
Voters in Maine gave thumbs-up to five bond measures. The largest will provide $100 million for transportation needs; the others will fund buildings for Maine’s universities, community colleges, Maine Army National Guard facilities and the Maine Maritime Academy. These measures were all referred to the ballot by the Maine Legislature, a common practice in the state.
Texans supported all nine of the ballot measures voted on in the state. Proposition 6, which passed with 73 percent of the vote, will create a State Water Implementation Fund to finance water projects in the state—with the funding coming from the state’s existing “rainy day” fund. Two measures, Propositions One and Four, provide tax breaks to the widows of service members and disabled veterans.
Ballot measures in New Jersey also received positive support. On Public Question 1, 81 percent voted to let veterans’ organizations use money from bingo and similar games to support their organizations. At present, the state constitution allows this money to be used only for educational, charitable, patriotic, religious or public-spirited purposes. Garnering 61 percent of the vote, Public Question 2 also passed, paving the way for an increase in the state’s minimum wage from the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour to $8.25, with indexing for future inflation.
In New York, the state’s highest profile measure, Proposal 1, will permit the state to authorize up to seven casinos. It passed with 56 percent of the vote.
An Off-Year for Hot Button Issues
This was not a year for social issues on the ballot. The closest any statewide ballot measure came this year to being a “hot button issue” was Colorado’s tax on recreational marijuana, Proposition AA, which passed with 64 percent of the vote. Last year, Coloradans voted to approve recreational marijuana; this year, they voted to add a 15 percent tax to fund school construction and 10 percent to fund marijuana enforcement.
For more on 2013 statewide ballot measures, see NCSL’s database of ballot measures.
Only two states, New Jersey and Virginia held scheduled legislative elections on Nov. 5, the fewest number of state-level contests of this decade. Louisiana and Mississippi are the only other states that conduct off-year state legislative elections but they elect lawmakers in both houses to four-year terms, so the next elections there will be in 2015.
In New Jersey, all 120 House and Senate seats were up for grabs along with the governor’s office but no big political surprises upset the balance of power in the Garden State. Democrats held on to their safe majorities in both chambers. Although Republican Governor Chris Christie’s popularity led him to a crushing victory over Democratic Senator Barbara Buono, his bipartisan appeal did little to help his fellow Republicans down ticket. After the last ballots were counted, Democrats continued to maintain a 24-16 majority in the Senate and lost only two seats in the State Assembly, still maintaining a comfortable 12-seat majority.
In Virginia, only the 100 seats in the House of Delegates were up for election, and the results did nothing to upset the balance of power. Republicans added two seats to their already comfortable majority and now maintain a 34-seat advantage in the chamber.
There were no seats up in the Senate of Virginia this year, but the results of the commonwealth’s statewide offices could alter the current 20-20 tie in the chamber. The Senate is currently under Republican control since the state’s Republican lieutenant governor casts the tie- breaking vote. Democratic Senator Ralph Northam resoundingly defeated Republican E.W. Jackson to become Virginia’s new lieutenant governor. However, Senator Northam will have to vacate his current Senate seat prior to assuming his new office this coming January. In order to fill the seat, Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe will have to hold a special election to fill the vacancy sometime next year.
There were also 16 special elections in eight other states to fill vacated seats. The one that received the most attention was Washington’s 26th senate district where Democratic Senator Nathan Schlicher ran against three-term Representative Jan Angel (R). Senator Schlicher was appointed to the seat when Derek Kilmer, the previous incumbent, won election to Congress. Washington is one of only three states that conduct elections entirely by mail so the final results may not be official until Friday. Representative Angel is currently ahead but only by 750 votes, so the race is still too close to call. Whoever wins the contest will serve out the remainder of the term. The Washington Senate is currently controlled by a majority coalition made up of 23 Republicans and two Democrats. This is one of the more competitive districts in the state, and this race was the most expensive in the state’s legislative history. It could decide who will control the chamber following the 2014 midterm elections.
For more on the 2013 state elections check out NCSL's StateVote 2013 report.
NCSL is the bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staff of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.