Wendy Underhill covers election administration, the initiative and referendum process and ballot measures for NCSL
Lawmakers may be watching ballot measures this year with an eye to whether these ideas could spread to their own state, either through a vote of the people or in the legislature. Voters in 35 states will decide 154 statewide ballot measures. This year’s total is in line with the totals from 2010, 2012 and 2014, but those numbers are down from the period, 1990-2008. The average for the decade, 2000-2009, is 206 during even-numbered years, with a high of 235 and a low of 173.
Seventy-three of this year’s ballot measures are initiatives—measures put on ballots by citizens gathering signatures. Twenty-four states provide citizens an avenue for getting their issues on the ballot. From 2000 through 2014, the number of citizen initiatives on November ballots in even years has varied between 35 and 79 with an average of 53. (For more on the procedural aspects of ballot measures, see NCSL’s Initiative and Referendum Overview.)
What is more surprising is that the number of initiatives is almost the same as the number of legislative referendums, 73 to 75. Legislative referendums are markedly lower than in most years.
Four popular referendums—when voters who are unhappy with a newly enacted law gather signatures to put the new law on the ballot so voters can choose to veto it—are on the ballots in three states. California has a popular referendum to repeal a 2014 statewide ban on plastic bags. South Dakota has two, one that would repeal a law that lowers the minimum wage for youth, and the other relating to petitions. Nebraskans will consider whether to repeal a law that eliminates the death penalty.
This year’s statewide ballot measures offer a wide range of ideas, some new and some not-so-new. Marijuana, firearms, and various measures relating to elections are big, and nothing related to marriage or reproductive rights/abortion is on any statewide ballot in 2016. Here is a short alphabetical summary. Links take readers to NCSL's blog for more details.
Animal rights: expanding farm animal cage size (Massachusetts), prohibiting traps and snares on public lands (Montana)
Bonds: two measures change the process for using bonds (Arkansas and California), and almost a dozen others would pay for initiatives around education, transportation, science, human services and the environment (California, Maine, Montana, New Mexico and Rhode Island)
Cigarettes: tax increases (California, Colorado, Missouri, and North Dakota)
Campaign Finance: California, Missouri, South Dakota and Washington
Criminal justice: capital punishment (California, Nebraska, Oklahoma) New Mexico (bail) and crime victims’ rights (Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota)
Education: charter schools (Massachusetts), funding for high school dropout retention and college readiness (Oregon), state control of failing schools (Georgia) and education funding proposals (California, Maine, and Utah)
Elections: voter ID (Missouri), ranked-choice voting (Maine), nonpartisan elections (South Dakota), a redistricting commission (South Dakota) and campaign finance (California, Missouri, South Dakota, and Washington)
Energy: A carbon tax (Washington) and retail solar energy (Florida and Nevada)
Firearms: background checks for purchasing firearms (Maine and Nevada) or ammunition (California) and extreme risk protection orders (Washington)
Gambling: enable more casinos or slots parlors in more locations (Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island)
Health: require use of condoms in the adult film industry (California), drug pricing (California), single-payer health care (Colorado) and aid-in-dying (Colorado)
Right to hunt, fish, farm and ranch: protecting the right to hunt and fish (Indiana and Kansas) and the right to farm and ranch (Oklahoma)
Legislative changes: establishing an ethics commission (Rhode Island), impeachments (Alabama), creating a timeline for publishing bills before voting on it (California), legislative salaries (Minnesota), requiring residency in the district (North Dakota) and giving the legislature oversight of administrative rules (Idaho)
Marijuana legalization or expansion: recreational (Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada) and medical (Arkansas, Florida, Montana, North Dakota)
Minimum wage: increasing it (Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington) or decreasing it, for youth only (South Dakota)
Tax policy: increasing corporate or income taxes (California, Louisiana, Maine, and Oregon), increasing sales tax (Oklahoma), prohibiting an increase of the sales tax (Missouri), tax exemptions for special groups or cases (Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, Utah, and Virginia) and a carbon emissions tax (Washington)
Transportation: various approaches to securing funding and financing (Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, New Jersey)
For information about all of 2016’s statewide ballot measures, see NCSL’s database of ballot measures or contact Wendy Underhill at 303-364-7700.