Voters Make Policy

11/8/2018

STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE | NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2018

Two men in hard hats inspecting a highway viaduct

 

Citizens Had Their Say on More Than 150 Ballot Measures That Could Transform Their States

By Patrick Potyondy

Editor's note: For complete election results, please visit NCSL's StateVote 2018 page.

If you tuned in to any of the major television news stations on election night, you couldn’t miss the focus on candidates for the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and governorships. You no doubt heard about the state legislators, secretaries of state, attorneys general and others vying for office.

But, on top of all that, voters enacted policies across 37 states, saying “yes” or “no” to 155 statewide ballot measures (with 13 having already been decided earlier in the year). Of them, as of press time, 107 passed. The measures included legislative referrals (when a legislature places an item on the ballot), initiatives (when enough signatures are gathered to place an item), popular referendum (when voters are given the power to “veto” a bill) and a handful of other items. Ballot measures can amend constitutions or statutes, with wildly different rules governing the process in each state.

This year, voters weighed in on some of the most pressing issues of our day—elections, redistricting, ethics, health care, revenues, transportation, criminal justice, housing, energy, the environment and more.

Elections and Public Office

Perhaps the major election issue of the night was the passage of an amendment in Florida that will re-enfranchise individuals with a felony conviction once they have served their sentence—which is about 1.4 million people, predominately African-Americans. The measure excludes those who were convicted of murder or sexual crimes. The pendulum swung in the opposite direction in Louisiana where voters chose to bar anyone with a felony from holding public office for five years after completing their sentence.

Maryland voters passed Election Day registration. Nevadans will now have automatic voter registration. And Michiganders passed a sweeping measure that included a package of voting policies from automatic registration to post-election audits. Voters went in a different direction in Arkansas and North Carolina by passing new photo ID requirements.

Voters in Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, New Mexico and North Dakota also seemed keen on passing ethics-related issues, while Arkansas trimmed its term limits from 16 to 10 years.

Redistricting

Redistricting reformers—who support increased, direct public control and oversight of the process—had a good night. Colorado voters passed two measures with 70 percent of the vote, falling just short of Ohio’s 75 percent margin when that state passed redistricting reform earlier in the year. Sixty-one percent of Michigan voters approved using a redistricting commission, and 62 percent of Missourians passed their measure. Utah’s measure is still up in the air, though ayes held a slight lead over noes with about 75 percent of the votes counted.

Health Care

After Maine voters approved Medicaid expansion last year, Idaho, Nebraska and Utah put initiatives on their ballots. The Gem State passed it with more than 60 percent of the vote, the Cornhusker State with 53 percent. The Beehive State’s measure was leading at press time. If all three pass, only 14 states will not have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Two of the three abortion restriction measures passed. Alabama and West Virginia voters approved restrictions, Oregon voters did not.

California voters chose not to regulate dialysis costs, but they did authorize paid on-call breaks for EMTs and bonds for children’s hospitals. Massachusetts voters decided not to limit the number of patients that hospital nurses could care for at one time. And Mainers elected not to tax higher incomes to create a universal in-home care program.

Raising or Reducing Revenue

Sixteen of 18 bond measures passed (with two still being counted). Voters in most states decided to fund their community colleges, K-12 public education, transportation, senior centers and more. Coloradans, however, decided against two transportation bond measures to fund infrastructure improvements.

Voters in general rejected measures that would raise taxes. In addition to voting down the two bond measures, one of which included a tax increase, Coloradans also rejected taxing the wealthy to better fund K-12 education.

In Florida and North Carolina, it will now be harder for officials to raise tax revenue. Arizona will not be able to create taxes on untaxed services. And Montana will not increase tobacco taxes to fund Medicaid. Ultimately, states were split on whether to erect supermajority requirements when raising taxes. Floridians passed their measure; Oregonians rejected theirs. And Nevadans decided to exempt feminine hygiene products from taxes.

Transportation

As on many issues this year, voters were split on transportation funding. Colorado voters turned down the two above-mentioned transportation bonds. Likewise, Missourians rejected a 10-cent gas tax increase. Alternatively, Californians chose to keep the state’s recent gas-tax hike and turned down the chance to make any future tax increases require voter approval. And, like Californians earlier in the year, Connecticuters passed a transportation lockbox amendment, which requires funds marked for transportation to be used only for transportation.

Criminal Justice

Criminal justice comprised the widest array of topics. Michigan became the first Midwestern state to pass recreational marijuana, while North Dakotans just said no to drugs (including the expungement of pot convictions that went along with the proposed legalization). A crime victims bill of rights, often known as a Marsy’s Law, was passed in six states. Coloradans voted to remove constitutional language that allowed slavery to be used as punishment for a crime. Louisiana will now require unanimous juries to convict people of capital felonies. Ohioans declined to reform their drug laws and dedicate savings to rehabilitation.

In the Northwest, Washingtonians passed the country’s only gun control measure with 60 percent of the vote. The measure raises the age of owning a semiautomatic rifle, makes safe gun storage mandatory, enhances background checks and lengthens the waiting period before buying a gun. The state also passed a significant reform on how police use of force is justified. Oregonians decided against repealing a 30-year-old statute limiting the ability of state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws.

Housing

A few states addressed housing affordability, which continues to worsen in many parts of the country. Californians supported bonds for affordable housing and to fight homelessness, but they also chose to keep the law that prevents local government from enacting rent controls. They also rejected a proposal to let homeowners over 55 purchase new, more expensive homes but keep the old home’s tax rate. Oregonians voted to allow municipalities to fund privately owned affordable-housing developments.

Energy and the Environment

Generally, voters were split on efforts to pass state-level environmental protections, although the overall trend seems to favor industry. While Florida voters passed a ban on off-shore drilling, Coloradans declined to require larger setbacks for new oil and gas drilling. Washington voters rejected what would have been the first carbon fee in the nation. Montanans will not require new hard-rock mines to have a long-term plan for rehabilitation to avoid toxic pollution. And Alaskans declined to require permits and higher protection standards for salmon waters.

In Arizona, 70 percent of voters turned down a measure requiring utilities to use 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, while 60 percent of Nevadans approved a similar measure.

Always Something More to Compromise On

Of course, other interesting measures abound. One to expand school vouchers was defeated by nearly 70 percent of the vote in Arizona. On the minimum wage front, gradual increases passed in Arkansas and Missouri. (Washington, D.C., voters passed an increase earlier in the year, though the city council soon repealed it.) And Massachusetts voters made history, on the first statewide vote on the issue, in choosing to uphold nondiscrimination protections for transgender individuals.

In the end, many of the measures—from wages to environmental protection to health care—reveal that Americans will have to find common ground if they hope to address major issues facing their states and the country.

For details on every measure in November's election, check out NCSL’s Statewide Ballot Measure Database

Patrick R. Potyondy is a Mellon-ACLS public fellow and a legislative policy specialist with NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.

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