Governing's Guide to Ballot Measures

Welcome to Governing's guide to ballot measures! My goal here is to list this year's initiatives and referenda that will be of interest ...
by | September 30, 2008

Welcome to Governing's guide to ballot measures! My goal here is to list this year's initiatives and referenda that will be of interest to a national audience -- and to describe their significance.

I'll slowly be adding more measures to the guide as the election approaches (so feel free to bookmark this post). For a comprehensive listing of ballot measures, I recommend NCSL's database or Ballotpedia.

I'm listing measures alphabetically by topic and, within each topic, alphabetically by state. You can view them all after the jump. The three most recent additions are:

Added 11/3: California's Prop. 10 under "Budget" and California's Prop. 7 under "Transportation"

Added 11/3: Michigan measure under "Stem Cell Research"

Added 11/4: Several measures, which are listed here.


State: California

Issue: Proposition 4, which would require minors seeking abortions to notify a parent or guardian and then wait at least 48 hours before having the abortion.

Analysis: This is the third time in the last four years that California is voting on parental notification and abortion waiting periods, although this year's version has some slight tweaks to it. Each of the previous two versions failed narrowly.

State: Colorado

Issue: Amendment 48, which defines life as beginning at conception and grants constitutional rights (life, liberty, etc.) from that point.

Analysis: This measure takes the novel tact of being about abortion without mentioning abortion. The idea here seems to be to avoid the messy details (should there be exemptions for rape, for the health of the mother, etc.?) that have bogged down abortion bans in other states such as South Dakota. However, the proposal has such a broad reach that some conservatives are balking at the strategy.

State: South Dakota

Issue: Initiated Measure 11, a ban on abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or if the health or life of the mother is at stake.

Analysis: Pro-life advocates placed a more restrictive abortion measure on the 2006 ballot in South Dakota, which only included an exception for the life of the mother. That proposal lost 56%-44%, but supporters hope the changes will persuade voters to switch sides this time around. Other than California's gay marriage vote, this will probably be the closely watched ballot measure in the country because of its potential to set up a challenge to Roe v. Wade.

Affirmative Action

State: Colorado

Issue: Amendment 46, a ban on race-based or gender-based affirmative action in government employment, contracting and education.

Analysis: Ward Connerly, a national activist against affirmative action, pushed this initiative. If the history of votes on affirmative action in other states is any guide, it will pass.

State: Nebraska

Issue: A ban on race-based or gender-based affirmative action in government employment, contracting and education.

Analysis: As in Colorado, this initiative was pushed by Ward Connerly and seems likely to pass.

Animal Rights

State: California

Issue: Proposition 2, which would set standards for the confinement of hens, veal calves and pregnant pigs.

Analysis: Here.

Assisted Suicide

State: Washington

Issue: Proposition 1000, which would allow physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill adults.

Analysis: This measure, championed by former Gov. Booth Gardner, would make Washington the second state, along with Oregon, to legalize assisted suicide. The Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates in Washington, Christine Gregoire and Dino Rossi, both oppose the initiative.

Budget & Taxes

State: Arizona

Issue: Amendment 105, which would require initiatives that involve new spending, taxes or fees to receive a majority of the vote of all registered voters in order to pass, instead of simply a majority of those who cast ballots in that election.

Analysis: Here.

State: California

Issue: Prop. 7, which (among other things) would require that California utilities produce half of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.

Analysis: At least of its face, Prop. 7 would create some of the most ambitious renewable portfolio standards in the country. However, a broad coalition, including both the Democratic and Republican parties, is opposing it because they say it was poorly written and would have broad unintended effects.

State: Colorado

Issue: Amendment 51, which would raise sales taxes to pay for services for people with developmental disabilities.

Analysis: Most likely, Coloradoans wouldn't support a sales tax increase to go straight into the general fund -- especially with the economy struggling -- but committing the money to people with developmental disabilities could change the dynamics. Supporters argue that the long waiting lists for services demonstrate the need for additional funding. Critics of the amendment don't disagree, but say the money can be found elsewhere in the budget.

State: Colorado

Issue: Amendment 58, which would increase severance taxes on the oil and gas industry (by removing tax credits) and use the money for a variety of purposes, including college scholarships.

Analysis: Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, is the amendment's biggest supporter. Ritter thinks that the state could be getting a better deal for its natural resources. His case is that higher taxes won't discourage extraction of oil and gas because it will still be highly profitable. The industry itself disagrees, of course, and is spending millions ($19 million by one estimate) to fight the proposal. If you're wondering about the salience of populist critiques of big oil, this is the measure to watch.

State: Colorado

Issue: Amendment 59, which would modify Colorado's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights and education funding requirements.

Analysis: To understand why this vote it a big deal in Colorado, you have to know the history. I covered it in a recent article for Governing:

In 1992, voters there approved a Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR), the strongest such law in the nation, which limited year-over-year state revenue increases to a formula based on population growth plus inflation. In 2000, Colorado voters approved another initiative, which mandated that per-pupil education spending increase at the rate of inflation or faster, regardless of the state budget situation. Together, those initiatives create rigid requirements and conflicting priorities that drive state budgeters crazy. "We're one of the only states," says Andrew Romanoff, the speaker of the Colorado House, "where the constitution requires simultaneous revenue reductions and spending increases."

What Amendment 59 would do is remove both the limits on revenue increases in TABOR and the requirement to always increase education funding (it would also create savings accounts for education). Romanoff is its biggest supporter. The battle over Amendment 59 is a reprise of a fight three years ago, which temporarily lifted some of TABOR's requirements. While the issue it still hot --with most Democrats supporting Amendment 59 and most Republicans adamantly opposing it -- it's not getting quite the attention it did in 2005, in part because of the presidential election and U.S. Senate election in Colorado. It's hard to say whether a lower profile helps or hurts the measure.

State: Maine

Issue: Question 1, which would repeal a tax on soda, wine and malt beverages.

Analysis: This mundane-sounding measure is actually about a lot more than the cost of 7-Up. To plug a hole in the budget of Dirigo, the state effort at universal health insurance, the legislature approved this tax earlier this year. It was a party line vote -- Democrats in favor, Republican against. Under the "People's Veto" in Maine, voters will get the final say. This is one of the top political issues in state. Republican are using the beverage tax in legislative campaigns. Gov. John Baldacci is trying to preserve the tax (and the 18-17 Democratic edge in the state senate). While repealing the tax wouldn't necessarily kill Dirigo, it would put the program's future in doubt.

State: Massachusetts

Issue: Question 1, which would eliminate the state income tax.

Analysis: Income taxes account for 40% of Massachusetts' budget, so, if this measure passes, it will have a massive impact on government in the state. A former libertarian candidate for governor is teaming up with other anti-tax activists to push the measure, which is opposed by most of the state's leading elected officials, unions and even the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

State: Minnesota

Issue: HF 2285, which would raise sales taxes to fund natural resources and the arts.

Analysis: Here.

Constitutional Reform

State: Connecticut

Issue: A proposal to call a state constitutional convention.

Analysis: By rule, every twenty years the voters of Connecticut are asked whether they want to overhaul their constitution. This year, the proposal has sparked a hot debate in the state. Proponents want a convention to create a citizen initiative process, but critics contend that a constitutional rewrite would turn into a lobbyist free-for-all. Gov. Jodi Rell favors the convention, but Connecticut's other statewide elected officials oppose it.

State: Hawaii

Issue: A proposal to call a state constitutional convention.

Analysis: Hawaiians vote every ten years on whether to hold a constitutional convention. Elected Democrats -- who hold most key offices except the governorship in Hawaii -- are generally opposing the convention, while Republicans favor it.

State: Illinois

Issue: A proposal to call a state constitutional convention.

Analysis: Like Connecticut and Hawaii, Illinois votes on constitutional conventions at regular intervals (20 years in this case). When Illinois voted in 1988 on the question, only a quarter of voters backed a constitutional convention. This time around, however, voters' antipathy toward their political leaders -- and toward Gov. Rod Blagojevich in particular -- has some observers wondering whether the political dynamics will be different this time around. But, a broad coalition of business and labor groups is fighting the idea.

Crime and Punishment

State: California

Issue: Proposition 5, which replaces criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana with fines and expands drug treatment programs.

Analysis: Where's a single subject rule when you need one? This proposal makes a variety of complex changes to drug treatment programs for convicts, parole, and marijuana possession. The general thrust is the same, though: reducing incarceration and focusing more on drug treatment. Billionaire George Soros is a major supporter, but most municipal officials and the state Chamber of Commerce oppose it.

State: Massachusetts

Issue: Question 2, which would remove criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Analysis: The idea here is to make possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a civil, rather than criminal, offense -- fines would be $100. Interestingly, as in California, George Soros is a big financial backer of the proposal. Many law enforcement officials and Gov. Deval Patrick are opposing it.

State: Michigan

Issue: Proposal 08-1, which would allow people with debilitating medical conditions to use marijuana legally.

Analysis: As in Massachusetts, the dynamic here is a Democratic governor (in this case Jennifer Granholm) who doesn't want to soften marijuana policy. An eclectic group of 12 states, ranging from Alaska to Rhode Island, currently allow marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes, but none of them are in the Midwest. Is the Midwest more resistant to the concept? This vote will provide some guidance.

State: Oregon

Issue: Measure 57, which would increase prison sentences for certain types of criminals and offer probation for first-time offenders.

Analysis: Here.

State: Oregon

Issue: Measure 61, which would require mandatory minimum prison sentences for a variety of crimes.

Analysis: Here.


State: Oregon

Issue: Measure 58, which would prohibit public school students learning English as a second language from being taught in a language other than English for more than two years.

Analysis: With Measure 58, immigration and education policy collide. Bill Sizemore, a former Republican nominee for governor (and frequent initiative sponsor) is the author. He argues that schools keep students in English-as-a-second-language classes longer than is necessary in order to receive additional state funding. But, many education groups are opposing Measure 58, saying these students end up learning best if they receive a bilingual education until they master English.

State: Oregon

Issue: Measure 60, which would prohibit teachers from receiving raises based on seniority and instead require that all raises be awarded on the basis of classroom performance.

Analysis: Merit pay for teachers has been a subject of policy debates for years now. Rarely, though, do we get an opportunity to find out what the public thinks about the topic. Measure 60 is the latest clash between conservative activist Bill Sizemore, the proposal's sponsor, and teachers unions who are strongly against the proposal.

Election Reform


Issue: Measure 65, which would establish a "top-two" primary election system.

Analysis: Here's how the top-two system works: In the primary, every candidate appears on one ballot, regardless of party. Each voter gets one vote. The two candidates who receive the most votes (once again, regardless of party) advance to the general election. So, under this system, you can have a general election with two Democrats, for example.

Although a couple of former governors support Measure 65, it's opposed by most of the Oregon political establishment, including the Democratic and Republican parties and Gov. Ted Kulongoski. To the contrarian voters of the Pacific Northwest, that might be all the more reason to support it. There's a bit of symmetry here. Oregon is the only state that allows physician-assisted suicide, but Washington is voting on a ballot measure to allow it. Washington is the only state that uses the top-two system (Louisiana uses something similar), but Oregon is voting to establish it.

Eminent Domain

State: Nevada

Issue: Question 2, which would prevent government from using eminent domain to give private property to developers.

Analysis: Here.


State: Arkansas

Issue: Proposed Amendment 3, which would create a state lottery to fund college scholarships.

Analysis: State-run lotteries, an unquestioned fact of life in much of the country, remain controversial in the Deep South, where opposition to gambling is stronger. Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama are three of the only eight states without lotteries (the others are Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Hawaii and Alaska). Lt. Gov. Bill Halter has made the lottery a personal cause, so the vote will be a test of his political muscle.

State: Maryland

Issue: Question 2, to allow slot machines in Maryland.

Analysis: In 2007, Maryland, in a manner of speaking, was ahead of the curve: The state faced major budget problems before almost anyone else. To patch up the budget, the legislature agreed to tax increases and also placed the vote on slots, which supporters hope will be a revenue boon for the state, on the ballot. Many Republicans in Maryland, including former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, are opposing the measure. Democrats are deeply divided -- Governor Martin O'Malley and the state Democratic Party have endorsed it, but State Comptroller Peter Franchot and the Democratic Party organization in Montgomery County (the most populous jurisdiction in the state) are opposed.

Gay & Lesbian Issues

State: Arizona

Issue: Proposition 102, a ban on gay marriage in the state Constitution

Analysis: Twenty-seven states have voted on gay marriage bans over the past decade and 26 of them have passed. The one that failed was in Arizona in 2006, where the amendment was worded in a way that would likely have prohibited civil unions and other recognition of same-sex relationships. It received 48% of the vote.

This year, the legislature placed a scaled-back version of the ban on the ballot. It only applies to gay marriage. The question is whether that distinction will push the proposal over the 50% mark.

State: Arkansas

Issue: A ban on unmarried cohabitating couples serving as foster parents or adopting children.

Analysis: Social conservatives are pushing this initiative as a way to prohibit gay couples from adopting children or serving as foster parents. Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe and some social worker organizations are opposed. In a conservative state, the vote will test how far the public is willing to go in terms of restricting gay rights. 

State: California

Issue: Proposition 8, a ban on gay marriage in the state Constitution

Analysis: Thanks to a ruling by the state Supreme Court earlier this year, California became the second state to allow gay marriage. Social conservatives then moved quickly, placing a measure on the ballot to reverse the decision by banning gay marriage in the Constitution. So, a vote this fall will determine the fate of perhaps the hottest-button social issue in the nation's most populous state.

State: Florida

Issue: Amendment 2, a ban on gay marriage and same sex unions "treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof."

Analysis: Florida's ban on gay marriage would be very likely to pass, except that the Sunshine State requires 60% of the vote for constitutional amendments to win approval. That, combined with the broad wording of the amendment (compared to the gay marriage bans on the ballot in Arizona and California), makes this an interesting one to watch. Also of note: Some analysts think the gay marriage vote could affect turnout in the presidential race (although I'm not one of them).

Health Care

State: Arizona

Issue: Prop. 101, which would forbid the state from mandating that individuals have health insurance or restricting individuals' choices of private health care plans.

Analysis: The idea of Prop. 101 is to launch a preemptive strike against a Massachusetts-style individual mandate -- a requirement that everyone obtain health insurance. Many conservatives favor the measure. It even earned a ringing endorsement from George Will. Gov. Janet Napolitano is the leading opponent, but, somewhat surprisingly, she's been joined by the state Chamber of Commerce. They argue that the law would have costly unintended consequences (for Medicaid patients, for example) and lead to protracted legal battles.

State: Montana

Issue: I-155, which would set aside an estimated $22 million to expand eligibility under the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Analysis: Everyone favors health insurance for children. Voters in conservative states such as Montana tend to be mistrustful of government-provided health insurance. So, which instinct wins out? Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who's coasting to reelection, recently came out in favor of I-155.

Immigrant Policy

State: Arizona

Issue: Proposition 202, which modifies Arizona's 2007 law that created some of the nation's toughest penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Analysis: This one is complicated. The proposal is billed as "Stop Illegal Hiring" and, in some ways, it does make laws more stringent. For example, the measure increases penalties for identity theft and targets employers that pay workers in cash. But, Prop. 202 also reverses key portions of the 2007 employer sanction law, most notably the requirement that all employees be screened in the federal "eVerify" identity-checking system. It also ends the use of anonymous tips to rat out illegal hires. For those reasons, it's mostly critics of the employer sanction law, such as business groups, that are pushing this initiative.

State: Missouri

Issue: Constitutional Amendment 1, which requires that all government meetings be conducted in English. 

Analysis: Missouri is just the latest in a long list of states to consider making English the official language in one respect or another.


State: Arizona

Issue: Proposition 300, which would raise salaries of state legislators from $24,000 to $30,000.

Analysis: This sounds like a mundane topic, but legislative pay has become a huge political issue in Pennsylvania, Louisiana and other states in recent years. Of course, the fact that the proposal is going through the ballot -- rather than legislators raising their own pay -- could take some of the sting out of it.

State: California

Issue: Prop. 11, an initiative that takes the power to redraw legislative districts out of the hands of state legislators and creates a bipartisan commission to handle the task.

Analysis: After a prolonged budget stalemate earlier this year, pretty much everyone agrees that California government is a mess. That would seem to work in Prop. 11's favor. The measure creates a check on the power of the (very unpopular) legislature and, supporters argue, would lead to a more moderate legislature. The dynamics seemed quite similar in 2005, however, when a redistricting reform measure was walloped in California. There are differences with this year's proposal. For one, unlike the 2005 initiative, it doesn't include congressional redistricting. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and most conservative groups favor the measure, while Democrats and unions oppose it.

State: South Dakota

Issue: Constitutional Amendment J, which would repeal constitutional provisions that limit state legislators to eight consecutive years in office.

Analysis. Critics of term limits argue that they deprive legislatures of institutional memory and, in doing so, empower lobbyists. Unfortunately, the only people who tend to be persuaded by that argument are state legislators themselves and members of the staff of Governing Magazine. There are only 105 members of the South Dakota legislature and, to my knowledge, zero Governing staffers live in South Dakota, which explains why this proposal faces long odds -- especially with voters as skeptical as ever of professional politicians.

Stem Cell Research

State: Michigan

Issue: Prop. 2, which would repeal Michigan's ban on embryonic stem cell research.

Analysis: The predictable battle lines are drawn, as Michigan becomes the latest state to debate the ethics of stem cell research. Right now, Michigan has one of the nation's most stringent laws against stem cell research. Expect a close vote -- a similar measure passed in Missouri in 2006 with 51% of the vote.


State: California

Issue: Proposition 1A, which would dedicate close to $10 billion to building a high-speed rail line that would run from Sacramento to San Diego.

Analysis: After years of delay, the California legislature has finally decided that this will be the year the state's voters weigh in on high-speed rail. The trains would easily be the fastest in the United States traveling, at 220 miles per hour (the "high-speed" trains that run from Washington, D.C. to Boston only reach 150 MPH). But, Californians may balk at the price, especially given the state's budget problems.

State: California

Issue: Prop. 10, which would authorize $5 billion in state bonds, to pay for incentives to purchase alternative fuel vehicles and for research into renewable technologies.

Analysis: Everyone wants alternative fuels, but the price tag for this measure is causing concerns in the context of California's severe budget problems. For that reason, even some environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, are opposing Prop. 10. Billionaire T. Boone Pickens is a major backer of this initiative.


State: Colorado

Issue: Amendment 47, which would prohibit unions from charging mandatory dues.

Analysis: Here.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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