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Forget About The Candidates. What Else Is On The Ballot This Week?

Voters won’t just elect candidates on Tuesday. There are also more than 150 ballot measures being decided across dozens of states. These often fly under the radar because they don’t fall along clear Republican-vs.-Democrat lines, but that’s often why they’re so interesting: They force voters to engage directly with policy rather than fall back on their partisan identity. As a result, ballot measures can produce surprising results — like minimum-wage increases passing with more than 55 percent in red states. Here, grouped by subject matter, are the ballot measures to watch on election night.

Redistricting

Partisan gerrymandering — or the process of drawing electoral districts to benefit one party over the other — has become a hot political topic. With the next round of redistricting kicking off after the 2020 census, the following four states have ballot measures that aim to take the process out of the hands of governors and state legislatures. But fixing or preventing gerrymandering is complex, so they’re all going about it in slightly different ways:

  • Michigan’s Proposal 2 would amend the state constitution to create an independent citizen redistricting commission to draw both congressional and state-legislative lines. The proposal looks as though it will pass — it received 59 percent support in two recent polls.
  • Colorado will vote to create two similar commissions: one for congressional redistricting (Amendment Y) and one for state-legislative redistricting (Amendment Z). Notably, Colorado’s commissions would be required to draw as many competitive districts as possible — a requirement that proved controversial in Arizona, where opponents argued that it overrode considerations like geography. We couldn’t find any polling for Amendment Z, but 78 percent of respondents told YouGov in mid-October that they would vote “yes” on Amendment Y. (In Colorado, state constitutional amendments need 55 percent to pass.)
  • In Utah, Proposition 4 would create a bipartisan commission to propose congressional and state-legislative maps, but it wouldn’t be fully independent: Its seven members would be appointed by the governor and leaders of both parties in the legislature, and both maps would be subject to final approval — and possible revision — by the legislature. Buoyed by an ad quoting Ronald Reagan calling for bipartisan redistricting, the “yes” side led an October poll 58 percent to 22 percent.
  • In addition to setting campaign-contribution limits and instituting a cooling-off period for lobbying, Missouri’s Amendment 1 assigns a nonpartisan “state demographer” to draw the state-legislative map using specific mathematical formulas to maximize competitiveness and partisan fairness. Existing politician commissions would still have to review the maps but could only make changes if 70 percent of members agree. Amendment 1 would not change the way that congressional maps are drawn.

Voting changes and voter-identification laws

While most states bar incarcerated felons from voting, only four continue to prohibit it after sentences have been served. In Florida, 1.5 million people — more than 10 percent of the state’s voting-age population — can’t vote because of their criminal records. It has a disproportionate racial impact as well: 21 percent of the state’s adult black population can’t vote as a result. But that would all change under Amendment 4, which would restore the right to vote to felons (except murderers and some sexual offenders) who have completed their sentences. According to an analysis by The New York Times/Upshot, Amendment 4 could create about 300,000 new voters, assuming a turnout rate of 20 percent,1 and many of them are likely to be Democrats. That influx of voters could be enough to tip a close election in Democrats’ favor. Two recent polls have shown Amendment 4 at exactly the 60 percent support it needs to pass.

Other states will vote on expanding access to voting. With Question 5, Nevada will vote on whether to become the 15th state to register voters automatically when they apply for or renew a driver’s license. If Question 2 passes in Maryland, it will join 15 other states that allow residents to register to vote on Election Day. But the state with the most election-related changes on the ballot is Michigan, where Proposal 3 would enact automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, the ability to vote absentee without an excuse and straight-ticket voting (the option to vote for all candidates of a certain party by filling in a single bubble) in one fell swoop. Polls show Proposal 3 passing by more than 40 points.

Changes to voter identification laws will be on the ballot as well: Both Arkansas (with Issue 2) and North Carolina would amend their constitutions to require a photo ID to vote. Both states had voter-ID laws previously that were struck down by courts. The amendments are polling very well in both states and are likely to pass.

Fossil-fuel taxes and renewable-energy standards

Taxes on fossil fuels are the focus of two ballot measures — one that appeals to conservatives and one that appeals to progressives. In California, Proposition 6 would repeal gas taxes and vehicle fees that were imposed by state lawmakers last year in a move that angered many conservatives. State Republicans are hoping the measure boosts GOP turnout enough to save their endangered U.S. House incumbents. But with $46 million raised in opposition to the measure, recent polls have shown Prop 6 trailing by single digits. In Washington, Initiative 1631 would levy the first state-level carbon tax in the country. Polluters would have to pay $15 per metric ton of carbon they emit — a rate that would increase by $2 every year that the state fails to meet its emissions targets. The measure is expected to raise $2.3 billion that would go into environmental and clean-energy initiatives. An early October poll gave I-1631 a 50-36 lead, but the vote could be closer than that lead indicates; history tells us that undecided voters disproportionately break for “no” in ballot-measure campaigns, and the oil industry has spent $30 million in opposition to the initiative.

Finally, one of the most expensive ballot-measure campaigns in the country revolves around Arizona Proposition 127, which would require the state’s utilities to derive 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030.2 Proponents led by progressive donor Tom Steyer have spent almost $18 million in support of the measure, but opponents have countered with nearly $22 million. According to two recent polls, the “no” side is winning handily.

Marijuana

Marijuana-legalization ballot measures have almost become cliché at this point; they’ve proven wildly successful as a tool to enact a liberal policy that might be a nonstarter in many state legislatures. In 2018, both Proposal 1 in Michigan and Measure 3 in North Dakota would legalize the use of recreational marijuana. In North Dakota, the ballot measure would also expunge the record of anyone convicted of a marijuana-related crime. Polls there are all over the place: Strategic Research Associates found Measure 3 failing 65-26, while a poll released by a pro-legalization group found it passing 51-36. In Michigan, two recent polls gave Proposal 1 similar 16- and 17-point leads.

Meanwhile, Utah and Missouri are both considering legalizing medical marijuana, but the circumstances are unusual. Supporters have agreed to stop campaigning for Utah’s Proposition 2 and pursue legislation instead, while Missouri is considering three ballot measures — Amendment 2, Amendment 3 and Proposition C — that would each permit residents to use the drug medicinally.3

Medicaid expansion

Medicaid expansion has become a popular ballot measure in states with conservative governments. Maine became the first state to pass a ballot measure expanding Medicaid last year, and it may break new ground on the health front this year with Question 1, a measure to fund universal home health care for people over 65. If Proposition 2 in Idaho, Initiative 427 in Nebraska and Proposition 3 in Utah all pass, they would expand Medicaid access to more than 300,000 people — 150,000 people in Utah alone.4 Medicaid expansion is also on the ballot in Montana, where Initiative 185 would permanently fund the program (under current law, the expansion in place right now would expire in 2019) by raising taxes on tobacco products. Of the four Medicaid-expansion ballot measures, at least two look likely to pass. The Utah measure led 59 percent to 33 percent in an October poll, and a poll in Idaho showed Medicaid expansion passing 45 percent to 19 percent, with 36 percent undecided (the poll was released in August, but Republican Gov. Butch Otter recently endorsed the measure). But in Montana, a late-September/early-October survey showed a dead heat, 41 percent to 41 percent. I couldn’t find any polling of Nebraska, so it’s not clear what will happen there, but if all four measures pass, the U.S. would be down to just 15 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid.


I could go on and on — I didn’t even touch on campaign-finance proposals in South Dakota, minimum-wage increases in Arkansas and Missouri, or gun control in Washington. And if you’re interested in knowing more, Daniel Nichanian has a good list of measures to watch. From health care to climate change to how we run our elections, direct democracy can affect daily life in your state even before a new politician is sworn in.

Footnotes

  1. Felons tend to belong to demographic groups — young, nonwhite, low-income, non-college-educated — that turn out at lower rates.

  2. Question 6 in Nevada is very similar, but it has to be passed twice — this year and again in 2020 — in order to go into effect.

  3. If multiple proposals get more than 50 percent of the vote, either amendment would take precedence over the proposition, which would change state law but not the state constitution. If both amendments pass, the one that received more votes will be enacted.

  4. Plus 90,000 in Nebraska and at least 62,000 in Idaho.

Nathaniel Rakich is FiveThirtyEight’s elections analyst.

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