Lawmakers, voters and election wonks alike can be forgiven for not paying attention to the 24 statewide ballot measures up for a vote on Nov. 2. Last November, voters weighed in on 124 ballot measures across 32 states, two territories and Washington, D.C. And with the pandemic disrupting campaigns and forcing some organizers to wait until the next cycle, 2022 might have 150 measures—or more.
This year, only six states will have policy questions on their ballots: Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Washington. While some measures have gained a statewide spotlight, few have broken through to the national stage.
Yet ballot measures, as always, are a bellwether of public opinion on contentious issues such as gambling, taxes and constitutional rights. In that regard, this year is no different. Voters will decide questions relating to everything from marijuana sales taxes and absentee voting to environmental and religious rights.
Ballot measures, as always, are a bellwether of public opinion on contentious issues such as gambling, taxes and constitutional rights.
Most 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 put it before voters—or through a referral to the ballot from the legislature. Seventeen of the general election’s 24 measures are legislative referrals, four are initiatives and three in Washington are nonbinding advisory questions automatically referred to the ballot whenever the Evergreen State’s Legislature passes a bill creating or increasing taxes or fees.
Sixteen measures seek to make constitutional changes, three would make statutory changes, a Colorado measure would make both a constitutional and a statutory change, and one in Maine is a bond issue.
Information about individual ballot measures can be found in NCSL’s Statewide Ballot Measure Database. (16580) Or read on for a topic-by-topic preview of November’s 24 ballot measures.
Taxes are always a popular subject for ballot measures. Five measures seek to raise taxes, limit them or exempt certain groups from paying them. Three of the measures are from Colorado, which allows off-year ballot measures only if they address tax or fiscal issues. Proposition 119 would increase the retail sales tax on marijuana by 5%, with the proceeds partially funding an out-of-school education program. Proposition 120 aims to reduce property tax assessment rates and would authorize the state to retain $25 million in surplus revenue that otherwise would be refunded to taxpayers under Colorado’s strictest-in-the-nation spending cap, known as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Amendment 78, which would make both constitutional and statutory changes, would give the power to appropriate custodial funds to the Legislature, removing it from the state treasurer.
In Texas, voters will decide two minor measures to expand homestead tax exemptions. Proposition 7 would allow a cap on homestead taxes for surviving spouses of disabled individuals, and Proposition 8 would extend homestead tax exemptions for surviving spouses of military members killed in action and to the spouses of those fatally injured in the line of duty. And Washingtonians will provide nonbinding input on three questions relating to taxes on phone lines, capital gains and captive insurers. Votes for or against won’t affect the law, but they will give legislators a sense of public opinion.
Elections and Redistricting
Although elections and redistricting have been making headlines nationwide all year, just three measures seek to make changes in this area—and only New York voters will weigh in on them. Proposal 1 seeks to change the state’s redistricting process by amending the number of votes a redistricting plan proposed by the state’s new advisory committee must receive to be approved, revising redistricting deadlines and providing for the reallocation of inmate data for redistricting purposes. Proposal 3 aims to repeal the requirement that individuals register to vote at least 10 days before an election, which would pave the way for the Legislature to enact same-day registration. And Proposal 4 would authorize the state to enact no-excuse absentee voting by removing the constitutional requirement that voters must provide an excuse to vote absentee.
Two measures seek to provide or authorize funds for infrastructure projects. In Texas, Proposition 2 would allow counties to issue bonds for transportation and infrastructure projects in underdeveloped areas, and in Maine, Question 2 would authorize $100 million in bonds for various infrastructure projects. Mainers will also decide Question 1, a locally contentious citizen initiative that would ban the construction of certain high-voltage electric transmission lines in the state’s Upper Kennebec Region and require a two-thirds majority vote of the Legislature to approve all other such electric transmission line projects. With supporters and opponents raising over $71 million, Question 1 is the most expensive ballot measure in the state’s history.
Several measures seek to establish new constitutional rights for state residents. In New York, voters will weigh in on Proposal 2, an amendment that would enshrine in the state’s constitution the right to clean air, water and a healthful environment. Maine voters will decide Question 3, which would establish a constitutional right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of an individual’s own choosing; if passed, the amendment would be the first of its kind.
Texans will see two rights-related measures on their ballots, both responding to restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Proposition 3 would broadly prohibit the state or any political subdivision from limiting religious services or organizations, and Proposition 6 would establish a right for residents of certain facilities to designate an essential caregiver for in-person visitation.
Both of New Jersey’s legislative referrals seek to expand gambling in the Garden State. Public Question 1 would permit wagering on college sports, and Public Question 2 would expand the types of organizations allowed to use the proceeds of raffles to support themselves; previously, permission was granted only to veterans and senior citizens groups. Texans will also address raffles: Proposition 1 will ask voters to authorize professional sports team charitable foundations to conduct raffles at rodeo venues.
Finally, several measures relate to the judiciary. In Texas, Proposition 4 seeks to alter eligibility requirements for certain judicial offices, and Proposition 5 would give the State Commission on Judicial Conduct the power to investigate and discipline judicial candidates and judicial officeholders. In New York, Proposal 5 would expand the New York City Civil Court’s jurisdiction over lawsuits involving claims from $25,000 to $50,000.
Mandy Zoch is a project manager in NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.