While this year’s big election news is the Republican comeback in Virginia, voters across six states also determined the fate of 24 ballot measures.
Voters approved 14 of the measures and rejected 10. Colorado and Washington voters rejected every question—all six of which were tax-related—but Maine and Texas approved theirs. New Jersey residents split on two gambling questions—rejecting wagering on college sports but approving an expansion of charitable raffles—and New Yorkers were divided on the state’s five measures but in agreement on one thing: no changes to the Empire State’s elections or redistricting.
As always, ballot measures provide direct insight into public opinion, giving legislators, candidates and even other ballot measure campaigns an idea of what might appeal to voters in the coming year—and what might not.
As always, ballot measures provide direct insight into public opinion.
More information about the 2021 general election can be found on the NCSL State Elections 2021 webpage, and ballot measure details can be found in NCSL’s Statewide Ballot Measure Database. Or read on for a topic-by-topic review of this year’s ballot measures.
Taxes are always a popular subject for ballot measures, and this year was no different. Five measures sought to raise or limit taxes or exempt certain groups from paying them. Three of those measures failed in Colorado, which limits ballot measures during off-year elections to tax or fiscal issues. Proposition 119 would have increased the retail sales tax on marijuana by 5% with the proceeds partially funding an out-of-school education program. Proposition 120 aimed to reduce property tax assessment rates and 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 intended to give the power to appropriate custodial funds to the Legislature, removing it from the state treasurer.
In Texas, voters approved two tax measures concerning surviving spouses. Proposition 7 allows a cap on homestead taxes for surviving spouses of disabled individuals, and Proposition 8 extends homestead tax exemptions for surviving spouses of military members killed in action to the spouses of those fatally injured in the line of duty. And Washington state voters said no to three nonbinding advisory questions relating to taxes on phone lines, capital gains and captive insurers.
Elections and Redistricting
Although elections and redistricting have been making headlines nationwide all year, voters only saw three ballot measures on the topic, all in New York, and all three failed. Proposal 1 sought to change the state’s redistricting process by amending the number of votes a redistricting plan must receive to be approved, revising redistricting deadlines and reallocating inmate data. Proposal 3 aimed 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 have authorized the state to enact no-excuse absentee voting by removing the requirement that voters provide an excuse to vote absentee.
Two measures aimed to provide or authorize funds for infrastructure projects. In Texas, voters passed Proposition 2, allowing counties to issue bonds for transportation and infrastructure projects in underdeveloped areas, and in Maine, voters said yes to Question 2, authorizing $100 million in bonds for various infrastructure projects. Mainers also passed Question 1, a locally contentious citizen initiative banning the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the state’s Upper Kennebec Region and requiring a two-thirds majority vote for the Legislature to approve all other high-impact 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 sought to establish new constitutional rights for state residents. New York voters approved Proposal 2, an amendment that will enshrine the right to clean air, water and a healthful environment in the state’s constitution. Maine voters passed Question 3, establishing a constitutional right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of an individual’s own choosing—the first amendment of its kind.
Texans approved two rights-related measures, both responding to restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Proposition 3 prohibits the state or any political subdivision from limiting religious services or organizations, and Proposition 6 establishes a right for residents of certain facilities to designate an essential caregiver for in-person visitation.
Both of New Jersey’s legislative referrals sought to expand gambling in the Garden State, though voters were split on the issues. Voters rejected Public Question 1, which would have permitted wagering on college sports, though they passed Public Question 2, which will expand the types of organizations allowed to use the proceeds of raffles to support themselves. Previously, permission was granted only to veteran and senior citizen groups. Texas voters said yes to Proposition 1, which authorizes the charitable foundations of professional sports teams to conduct raffles at rodeo venues.
Voters approved two judiciary measures in Texas: Proposition 4 will alter eligibility requirements for certain judicial offices, and Proposition 5 will give the state Commission on Judicial Conduct the power to investigate and discipline judicial candidates, in addition to judicial officeholders. New Yorkers passed Proposal 5, which expands 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.