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What Voters Want: Abortion Access, Higher Wages and Election Changes Top List

By Amanda Zoch  |  November 9, 2022

Ballot measures give voters a direct say on policy—and this year, they’re saying yes to pro-choice measures, minimum wage increases, new guardrails for state legislators and various election process changes.

With six abortion-related measures on the ballot—the most ever in a single year—pro-choice advocates have prevailed. Voters in CaliforniaMichigan and Vermont approved constitutional amendments establishing the right to abortion and contraceptives. Kentucky voters rejected an attempt to add “no right to abortion” to the state constitution, and a similar anti-abortion measure looks poised to fail in Montana. Earlier this year, Kansans rejected an anti-abortion measure during the state’s August primary.

Minimum wage increases fared well this year, succeeding in at least two of three races. Nebraskans passed a citizen initiative to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026, and Washington, D.C., residents approved an initiative increasing the current tipped minimum wage of $5.05 to match the non-tipped minimum by 2027. In Nevada, a legislative referral that would initiate an increase to $12 per hour by July 2024 remains too close to call, but the ayes are leading.

Legislatures across the country will see a few new requirements or restrictions—some requested by the legislators themselves. North Dakotans passed a citizen initiative that will establish term limits for state legislators and governors—it’s the first state to do so since Nebraska in 2000. In Michigan, voters approved the Legislature’s request to change term limits from three two-year terms in the House and two four-year terms in the Senate (14 years total) to a combined 12 years. Maryland voters approved a legislative referral setting new residency requirements for state legislators. Georgians approved a legislative referral to suspend the pay of assemblymembers and other public officials who are indicted on felony charges. And in Oregon, voters passed a citizen initiative that will disqualify state legislators from reelection if they have 10 or more unexcused absences from floor sessions.

Election processes have been in the spotlight all year, and voters passed several noteworthy changes on hot-button issues. Michigan voters added drop boxes, early voting, photo voter ID alternatives and more to the state constitution. Nebraskans voted to require photo ID at the polls, becoming the 36th with a voter ID law. In Connecticut, voters approved a constitutional change that paves the way for the Legislature to enact early in-person voting. Arizona voters approved new disclosure requirements for independent expenditures, and in Ohio, voters decided to prohibit noncitizens from voting in local elections—an issue that will also be on the ballot in Louisiana in December.

Other highlights:

  • Voters in five states were split on recreational marijuana this year: Maryland and Missouri said yes; ArkansasNorth Dakota and South Dakota said no.
  • Voters in three states—OregonTennessee and Vermont—opted to remove from their constitutions language permitting slavery or involuntary servitude as punishments for committing a crime. Louisiana voters rejected a similar measure after the original sponsor started campaigning against it on the grounds that the final language was confusing and could lead to interpretations other than what the measure originally intended.
  • Iowans established a constitutional right to bear arms.
  • California Propositions 26 and 27, rival sports betting measures and the most expensive ballot measure fight in U.S. history, both failed.
  • South Dakotans approved a citizen initiative to expand Medicaid, becoming the 39th state to do so in the Affordable Care Act era.
  • And Alabama voters overwhelmingly agreed to ratify the new Constitution of Alabama of 2022. In 2020, voters passed a measure authorizing the Legislature to update the document by removing racist language, deleting duplicative content and rearranging the sections and amendments.
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