elections voting

2020 Ballot Measures: A Preview

By Amanda Zoch | Aug. 18, 2020 | State Legislatures Magazine

As of Aug. 17, voters across the country will weigh in on at least 106 ballot measures on Election Day, though that number will likely inch upward through September as states continue to certify measures for November.

Measures get on the ballot in one of two ways: through a citizen initiative—where citizens have an idea for a statutory or constitutional change and gather signatures to place it on the ballot—or through a referral to the ballot from the legislature.

Thirty of the Election Day measures are citizen initiatives. That number represents a significant decrease from 60 citizen initiatives in 2018 and 72 in 2016—due in large part to COVID-19 and public safety measures that made in-person signature-gathering nearly impossible. For context, 2020 will be the first presidential election year since 1928 where voters in Washington state won’t see a single citizen initiative on their November ballots. The rest of the measures are referred to the ballot by the legislature.

Seventy-six of the measures will make constitutional changes. Twenty-three propose statutory changes, and the other seven include three popular referenda, three bond issues and Iowa’s decennial question asking if voters want to hold a constitutional convention (per the Hawkeye State’s constitution).

Taxes and criminal justice remain popular topics for ballot measures and this year health and elections are popular, too—perhaps appropriate in a year with a pandemic and a presidential election.

Taxes and criminal justice remain popular topics for ballot measures and this year health and elections are popular, too—perhaps appropriate in a year with a pandemic and a presidential election.

Criminal Justice: In California, a referendum seeks to repeal SB 10, which would replace cash bail with pretrial risk assessment later this year. Voters will also see parole reform and parolee voting rights on the ballot in the Golden State. Kentuckians may experience déjà vu as they weigh in on Marsy’s Law, a measure that provides specific constitutional rights for crime victims and has been passed by 12 states; voters in the Bluegrass State passed the measure in 2018, but it was overturned due to issues with the ballot language. Both Nebraska and Utah will decide whether slavery as a punishment remains in their constitutions.

Elections: Three states—Alabama, Colorado and Florida—have measures seeking to clarify their constitutions so that “only a citizen” can vote. Citizen initiatives in Alaska, Massachusetts and North Dakota seek to implement ranked-choice voting. Alaska’s and North Dakota’s measure provide for open primaries, as well, which is also on the ballot via citizen initiative in Florida. In California, voters will decide whether 17-year-olds can vote in primaries, and Coloradans will weigh in on an effort to overturn the legislature’s decision to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

Health: Missouri and Oklahoma passed Medicaid expansions during the primaries and this November Oklahomans will also consider whether to appropriate funds from the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust to secure matching federal dollars for the state’s Medicaid program. In Colorado and Oregon, voters will consider legislatively referred measures proposing cigarette taxes to fund health and other programs. Medical marijuana is under consideration in South Dakota and Mississippi, as is abortion in Colorado and Louisiana. And in Washington, voters will consider a referendum on SB 5395, which requires schools to provide comprehensive sex education for all students.

Taxes: The Colorado legislature referred a constitutional amendment that seeks to repeal the Gallagher Amendment, which set property rates in the state constitution. If passed, the measure would freeze current residential and non-residential property tax rates and allow the state to adjust property tax assessments under state law. A California citizen initiative aims to tax commercial and industrial properties based on their market—rather than purchase—value, with the additional revenue going to local governments, schools and community colleges. Arkansans will decide whether to continue a 0.5% sales tax that funds transportation, and voters in New Jersey and Virginia will weigh in on tax deductions and exemptions for veterans. A proposal to increase taxes on oil and gas production is on the ballot in Alaska. An amendment in Illinois would repeal the state’s flat-rate personal income tax, enabling the legislature to enact a graduated income tax.

Find more information about these measures and more on NCSL’s complete ballot measures database.

Amanda Zoch is an NCSL policy specialist and Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow.

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