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Progressive Measures Sweep the Country in Midterm Elections

(Graphic via Pixabay)

The often overlooked results of ballot measures nationwide potentially give more insight into how the culture of the United States is changing or not changing.

While most of the country was focused on the battle between Democrats and Republicans, the real, on the ground impact of elections often comes from the approval or rejection of city and statewide propositions or measures. The 2018 midterm elections passed a number of progressive and reformative ballot initiatives which we take a look at below.

Gerrymandering

Colorado passed two anti-gerrymandering initiatives: Amendment Y and Amendment Z. Amendment Y and Amendment Z create independent commissions to redraw electoral districts. Amendment Y will look at redrawing congressional districts after the 2020 census, while Amendment Z will redraw state legislative districts. Both Amendments passed with overwhelming support — over 70% approval — and will amend the state’s constitution.

Michigan passed Proposal 2, another anti-gerrymandering initiative first created by 27-year-old Katie Fahey. Fahey posted in 2016 on Facebook a call for volunteers to help end gerrymandering in the state, that turned into the campaign and creation of Proposal 2. Katie and her team formed Voters Not Politicians and collected over 450,000 signatures to put Proposal 2 on the ballot which will now create an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

In Missouri, voters passed the “Clean Missouri” initiative which address corruption, big money and gerrymandering. Clean Missouri amends the state’s constitution to require all meetings and documents related to redistricting be subject to open-records laws while putting redistricting into the hands of a new “non-partisan state demographer.” The same amendment also puts limits on lobbying and bar politicians from serving as lobbyists for two years after ending their political term.

Utah hasn’t finished counting their ballots yet but Proposition 4, also known as Better Boundaries, would create a “seven-member independent redistricting commission to draft maps for congressional and state legislative districts.” It is currently holding onto a narrow lead.

Minimum Wage

The federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 where it has been since 2009. Two states voted to increase the minimum wage in the midterm elections: Arkansas and Missouri. The states will join Arizona, Colorado and Maine who also voted to increase minimum wage earlier this year. Twenty-nine states plus the District of Columbia already had minimum wage set above the federal level.

Missouri raised their minimum wage from $7.85 to $12 by 2023, while Arkansas is raising their minimum wage from $8.50 to $11 by 2021.

Slavery

Slavery as a form of punishment is still legal in the United States according to the U.S. Constitution. While the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, it technically allows slavery in prisons.

The Amendment states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

On Tuesday, Colorado voters abolished slavery as a form of punishment even though only two years earlier in 2016 voters voted to keep slavery as a form of punishment.

Prisoners across the country this year went on strike protesting their low pay and working conditions which they likened to modern-day slavery. Critics of the for-profit private prison system also liken it to modern-day slavery. While Colorado pays inmates for their work, though below minimum wage, according to Governing, the Amendment could inspire more prison-rights activism across the country.

The vote is “an incredibly important message to send to the country,” said Jumoke Emery, of Abolish Slavery, to Governing. “Even with the state of politics being divided, there are some things we can still agree upon on both sides of the aisle.”

Voting Rights

The big news in the voting rights world was Florida’s passage of Amendment 4 which restores voting rights to former felons not convicted of sex crimes or murder. It’s anticipated over 1.4 million people in Florida will have their voting rights restored as a result of Amendment 4.

Michigan approved “Promote the Vote” which allows voters to register to vote at any time including on election day as long as they have proof of residency. It will also establish an automatic voter registration system, give access to all voters to absentee ballots, ensure military service members and oversees citizens get ballots in time, and guarantees audits of election results.

Maryland passed Question 2 which also allows citizens to register to vote on election day at their polling stations.

Nevada also passed Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) which automatically registers individuals to vote when they receive certain services at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Last year Nevada’s governor vetoed AVR, but Nevada legislature referred the matter to the ballot. Voters will have to approve the initiative twice, according to Governing.

Arkansas and North Carolina, however, added voter ID requirements to their state constitutions.

Marijuana

Recreational marijuana initiatives passed in Michigan but failed in North Dakota. Michigan legalizes marijuana for anyone 21 or older though it places limits on how much can be stored in a residence. While cities and counties are allowed to restrict marijuana shops, the initiative will set up a business licensing system and tax marijuana at ten percent.

The measure in North Dakota failed 59 percent to 40 percent.

Gun Laws

Washington state passed Initiative 1639 which will give the state some of the strictest gun laws in the country. The measure is made up of 19 different sections and will raise the age to purchase semi-automatic weapons to 21. The measure also calls for enhanced background checks, secure gun storage, and waiting periods for gun purchases.

Hugh Spitzer told Governing that while Washington state has strong history of gun rights the new measures were within the state’s rights.

“From a state constitution standpoint, our strong ‘right to bear arms’ provision clearly would allow for the kinds of regulations included in this particular initiative,” said Spitzer.

Environment

Florida passed Amendment 9 which bans offshore drilling in all Florida state waters. State-controlled waters extend to three nautical miles along the Atlantic Coast and nine nautical miles along the Gulf Coast. The federal government, however, has control of the waters where state control ends out to 200 miles where international water territory begins.

Environmentalists in Washington hoped to be the first state to pass a carbon tax on polluters, but the measure failed as 56 percent of voters opposed it.

California passed controversial Proposition 12 which aims to improve living conditions for animals raised for meat or eggs. Some animal rights groups though opposed the initiative saying it codifies into law unethical confinement conditions and will falsely give consumers the impression they are buying ethical meat.

“Humane labels make consumers feel good about their decisions but perpetuate cruelty to animals,” said PETA’s Lindsay Dadko. “It is not and never will be humane to confine birds to one miserly square food of space. Cruelty is cruelty is cruelty, and it doesn’t matter what label you put on it.”

Corruption

New Mexico passed a constitutional amendment to establish an independent ethics committee with nearly 75 percent support. The commission will have the power to subpoena and will be authorized to look at misconduct by state officers as well as employees of the executive and legislative branches, plus candidates, lobbyists, government contractors and those seeking government contracts.

North Dakota passed the Anti-Corruption Amendment with 54 percent of the vote. The amendment will forbid lobbyists from giving gifts to public officials, forbid politicians from using campaign funds for personal use, require the state pass laws that disclose the “ultimate and true source” of money spent on media to influence politics and will create an ethics commission.

Phoenix, Arizona passed a similar Dark Money law requiring any person or group that spends money to influence city elections disclose the “true sources” of any major contributions they receive.

Denver, Colorado passed Referred Measure 2E which bans corporate contributions to anyone running for city office, limits overall contribution amounts and creates a public financing program for city candidates. Baltimore passed a similar public financing initiative that will create a public fund for city-wide elections.

Massachusetts passed an ambitious initiative to look into overturning Citizens United. Massachusetts Question 2 creates an advisory commission for amendments to the U.S. Constitution regarding Citizens United, corporate personhood and political spending.

As already mentioned, Missouri’s Clean Elections will place limits on lobbying, increase transparency and limit corruption.

New York City passed a measure to increase the amount of matching donations their public election financing fund makes and makes the funds available earlier in the year. It also lowers the amount of money from a single donor a candidate for city office can receive.

155 Statewide Ballot Measures

Voters in 37 states voted on 155 statewide ballot measures on Tuesday. According to Ballotpedia the notable trends and topics were:

  • Elections policy: — 20 measures in 15 states concerning redistricting, voting requirements, ballot access, campaign finance, and ethics
  • Marijuana: — seven measures in five states concerning legalization of medical or recreational marijuana
  • Restrictions on taxes: — eight measures in six states concerning restrictions or limitations on taxes
  • Medicaid expansion and healthcare: — five measures in five states concerning Medicaid expansion or funding for Medicaid expansion and five other measures related to healthcare
  • Marsy’s Law: — six states with Marsy’s Law crime victim rights amendments on the ballot
  • Energy: — four measures in three states concerning fossil fuel and renewable energy
  • Abortion: — three measures in three states concerning abortion access and abortion funding
  • Minimum wage: — two minimum wage increase measures in two states

Read more about all of the measures voted on at Governing.com or Ballotpedia.com.