DemDaily: Ballot Victories

December 13, 2022

When Americans went to the polls November 8 they cast their votes not just for candidates, but for hundreds of state and local ballot measures across the country on issues ranging from abortion and marijuana to healthcare and minimum wage.

Historically, major wedge or publicly controversial initiatives are usually held in on-election (even) years when congressional and other electoral seats are up, and 2022 was no exception.

Progressive initiatives prevailed in the midterms, revealing voter preference for the fundamental individual and civil rights of the people, despite polarization between the parties and amongst the electorate.

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.

While there are numerous types of measures, most are either referred by a legislature or commission, or initiated through signature petitions by citizens.

Ballot initiatives, those driven by citizens, are the most direct form of democracy. They also serve as an avenue for checking legislative powers as more lawmakers, in lieu of federal legislation, look to ballot measures to enact political change.

In 2022, 140 statewide ballot measures were certified for the ballot in 38 states.

Where We Won...and Lost
In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe v. Wade, 2022 featured the most abortion-related ballot measures on record.

In August, red-state Kansas voters overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment to ban abortion and public abortion funding. The astounding victory, one of the first litmus tests before voters after SCOTUS' decision, underscored the seismic dissatisfaction with the decision by voters and signaled a change in the trajectory of the elections.

On November 8, voters in California, Michigan, and Vermont enshrined the right to abortion in their state constitutions, and voters in Kentucky and Montana rejected attempts to make abortion illegal.

In other victories, Nebraska and Washington, DC voters raised minimum wages. Voters in Illinois codified collective bargaining rights for unions in their state’s constitution, while Tennessee voters did the opposite, embedding the anti-union “right to work” law in their constitution.

Maryland and Missouri legalized marijuana, while voters in Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota rejected that measure. Colorado also legalized psychedelic mushrooms by initiative vote.

Oregonians added a constitutional amendment stating that every resident has a fundamental right to affordable health care. South Dakotans expanded access to Medicaid and Arizona voters limited medical debt interest rates.

Both Colorado and Massachusetts approved measures involving taxing or transfer of wealth from the 1% to public education and services. In New York, voters passed a measure by 2/3 to issue $4.2 billion for climate change mitigation and renewable infrastructure.

Amid the struggle over real election integrity and the attack on the electoral process, there were also a record number of democracy issues on the ballot.

On voting rights, Connecticut passed an early voting measure, and Nevada voters adopted ranked-choice voting for state elections.

Michigan approved a citizen initiative expanding voting access and, despite the Arizona GOP's outsized voice in claiming widespread voter fraud, the Grand Canyon State rejected a proposition to adopt stricter voter ID requirements.

Nebraskans, however, overwhelmingly passed a new photo ID requirement for voters and Alabama passed a referendum mandating no changes to state voting rules within six months of an election.

Ohio voters passed Amendment 2 to prohibit local governments from allowing non-US citizens to vote in local elections.

On a more positive note, voters in Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont updated their states’ constitutions to remove slavery and indentured servitude as potential criminal punishment. Louisiana decided against repealing a similar measure.

Finally, in Oregon -- where one-third of adults own a gun -- voters passed expanded gun safety requirements to significantly tighten the state's gun laws.

"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

2022 Ballot Inititiative Results: BISC Election Tracker

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Sources: Ballotpedia, Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, Jacobin, NBC, Politico

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