5 Popular Ballot Themes This Election Year

While the final lineup of measures is still being sorted out, five broad themes are emerging.
September 2014
Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson  |  Contributor
Louis Jacobson is a GOVERNING contributor.

Voters won’t just be choosing candidates this fall. In many states, they’ll also be voting on a wide variety of ballot measures. While the final lineup of measures is still being sorted out, five broad themes are emerging. From economic and social issues to voting and elections to health care and education, here’s a quick guide to the issues likely to headline the November elections.

The Economy

A handful of unlikely states may be considering minimum wage increases this fall. Measures on wages and pay are making their way onto ballots in the red states of Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. What’s more, this arguably blue issue could boost Democratic turnout in two highly competitive U.S. Senate races in Alaska and Arkansas. “I think we’re seeing the beginning of a broader conversation about making the economy work for everyone,” says Josh Levin, vice president of programs at the liberal Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.

Social Issues: Pot and Personhood

Fresh off victories in Colorado and Washington, pro-marijuana forces could place measures to legalize medical marijuana on the ballot in Florida, Nebraska and Oklahoma. This, while Montana voters may be asked to rescind the state’s current medical marijuana law. Marijuana advocates may also succeed in getting Alaska and Oregon to vote on pot decriminalization.

Meanwhile, conservatives are hoping to pass restrictions on abortion in three states -- “personhood” measures in Colorado and North Dakota would give fetuses the legal rights of people, and constitutional changes in Tennessee would open the door to restrictions even in the case of rape and incest.

Health Care

Amid the intense focus on Obamacare’s changes to the health insurance market, California voters will decide whether to give that state’s insurance commissioner authority over insurance rates. South Dakotans will consider whether to set new rules for insurers on listing the health-care providers they contract with.

A separate measure in California would mandate drug testing of doctors.

Voting and Elections

As battles flare across the country over voting rules, two states, Connecticut and Missouri, may establish early voting. Meanwhile, Montana lawmakers may eliminate same-day voter registration, which has been law since 2005.

Oregon voters will consider the creation of a “top-two” primary system, in which the top-two finishers in an all-party primary would advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

Education

Finally, there are two significant education measures on the ballot: Nevada voters will consider a 2-percent margin tax on businesses that would enhance funding for K-12 public schools. And in Oregon, voters will consider whether to use the state’s bonding capacity to set up a higher education scholarship fund.

*A previous version of this story attributed Ben Morris of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center to a quote from Josh Levin.