DemDaily: 2023 Ballot Measure Breakdown

December 4, 2023

When Americans went to the polls November 7 they cast their votes not just for candidates, but for dozens of state and local ballot measures across the country on issues ranging from abortion and marijuana legalization, to elections and abolishing wealth taxes.

Major wedge or publicly controversial initiatives are usually held in on-election (even) years when congressional and other electoral seats can help boost voter turnout.

Political polarization, however, drove the number of 2023 statewide initiatives up to 41 across eight states -- Colorado, Louisiana, Maine, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin -- the highest number for an odd-numbered year since 2007.

The measures also serve as a barometer for the mood of the electorate and a preview of some of the issues that will motivate voters going into the 2024 presidential election.

All states, with the exception of Delaware, require voters to ratify proposed state constitutional amendments. Just twenty-six states and DC, however, grant their citizens amendment, statute and/or veto referendum power through initiatives -- providing them with a direct form of democracy and critical tool for enacting political change

The Highlights
Abortion: In 2023's highest profile initiative, voters in Ohio resoundingly passed Issue One, 56.6% to 43.4% -- becoming the seventh state, and the first led by a Republican, to enshrine reproductive rights in the state's constitution since the US Supreme Court's June 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Approval of the Right to Make Reproductive Decisions Including Abortion Initiative ensures the “right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including including to make decisions on abortion, contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one's own pregnancy and miscarriage care."

The amendment would still allow the state to restrict abortion after fetal viability -- approximately 23 weeks -- unless the patient’s “treating physician” deems it necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.

In an earlier attempt to thwart passage of the abortion rights initiative in advance of the November elections, Republican lawmakers called an August 2023 special election to pass a legislatively referred constitutional amendment (LRCA) to raise the requirement to amend the Ohio Constitution from a simple majority of 50%+1 to a 60% supermajority. It was resoundingly rejected by a vote of 57% to 43% -- underscoring the significance of abortion access to both Democratic and Republican voters.

The victory in the Midwest battleground that Donald Trump won by 8% in 2020, is a significant measure of an issue that could derail the increasingly conservative-lean of the Buckeye State in next year's election.

Marijuana: In November, Ohio became the 24th state, along with DC, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Virgin Islands, to legalize recreational use of cannabis. Of those, 14 were legalized through the ballot measure process.

Ohio Issue 2, An Act to Control and Regulate Adult Use Cannabis, which passed 56.97%-43.03%, allows eligible adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana at a time, and sales would be taxed at 10%.

Oklahomans, however, rejected legalization of marijuana, voting down State Question 820, 62%-38%.

Ranked Choice Voting: Voters in five local jurisdictions decided in favor of ranked-choice voting (RCV), one of the country's fastest-growing electoral reform systems.

Three cities in Michigan – Kalamazoo, East Lansing, and Royal Oak – voted to adopt RCV, while the residents of Minnetonka, Minnesota and Easthampton, Massachusetts voted to keep or expand RCV.

Under RCV, voters rank their preference of candidates on their ballots. If no candidate wins an outright majority in the first round, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. The votes are then re-calculated according to the second choice of the last-place finisher's voters. The process is repeated until one candidate has a majority and is declared the winner.

Elections: In Louisiana, voters overwhelmingly (73%) passed an initiative prohibiting state and local governments from using funds, goods, and services donated by foreign governments or nongovernmental (private) sources for the purpose of conducting elections.

By 86%-14%, Maine passed a similar initiative, Question 2, which prohibits foreign governments, or entities with partial (5% or more) foreign government ownership or control, from spending money to influence ballot measures or candidate elections.

Maine voters rejected by 53%-47%, Question 8, which would have removed a constitutional provision that prohibits individuals under a guardianship for reasons of mental illness from voting for governor, senators, and representatives. The provision has not been enforced since 2001 when a federal judge ruled it in violation of the Constitution's due process and the equal protection clauses. The measure was meant to bring the state constitution into compliance with federal law but was voted down.

They also soundly rejected an initiative that would have removed the requirement that an initiative petition signature gatherer must be a resident and registered voter of Maine

Taxes: Texas voters approved Proposition 3, 68%-32%, a state constitutional amendment, that prohibits an individual wealth or net worth tax. They also voted in favor of increasing the homestead tax exemption for homeowners from $40,000 to $100,000 for their primary residence.

Colorado voters approved Proposition II, the Excess Nicotine Taxes For Preschools measure, 68%-32%, which allows the state to retain excess revenue from taxes on tobacco and nicotine products to support its new universal preschool program.

"I believe in the Initiative and Referendum, which should be used not to destroy representative government, but to correct it whenever it becomes misrepresentative." - President Theodore Roosevelt

According to Ballotpedia, nearly $170 million was raised to support or oppose statewide ballot measures in 2023 -- more than the previous three odd-numbered year election cycles.

52 state measures have already been certified for the 2024 ballot in 23 states.

DemDaily: Tuesday’s Election Results! Abortion Drives Wins in Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky 11/8/23
DemDaily: Abortion on the Ballot. Today's Elections 11/7/23
DemDaily: Ohio Voters Reject Referendum in Victory for Abortion Rights 8/9/23

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: Ballotpedia, CNN, BISC, NCSL, NORML, FairVote

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