Why you should care
Because you have the power to decide, come November 8.
Amid all the talk of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, there’s a side race mounting. First name: ballot. Last name: initiatives. And whether they’re about future funding or decisions about health care, retirement or energy, they’re just more reasons to get out in November and vote.
Sure, Mary Jane— which has been off and on the ballot for decades now in one form or another — is back again and among the most burning, wide-sweeping subjects around. But there is even more interesting work afoot; in a presidential year, ballot initiatives are primed for an outsize effect. We’ve seen it in the past: George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election bid enjoyed an extra conservative push due to ballot initiatives in 11 states to ban gay marriage. And the people’s vote has already roused change this year — we’re looking at you, Brexit. So let’s dive into some of the roughly 165 initiatives on the American ballot that thus far have been approved and could spell a large, impending national conversation.
Retriggering a Debate
The 1999 Columbine High School shootings triggered a big shift in this country. President Bill Clinton took a hard line, going on national TV to discuss the issue and calling for restrictions on large-capacity ammunition clips “that make a mockery of our assault weapons ban.” He also noted, “We really can’t do what we need to do until there is national legislation.” But public opinion was divided; since then, ballot initiatives have come up often and mainly targeted a background check increase — with only some that have passed. This time around, Maine and Nevada will be voting on background checks. It seems like a standard approach, but if folks in more rural, gun-owning parts of these states go for it, that message might be a canary in a coal mine for the NRA: Support could become harder to find.
Meanwhile, California seems to be revisiting Clinton’s argument by offering up Proposition 63, which includes a proposal to limit large-capacity magazines, or magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. What’s most interesting is that a number of states have already banned these types of ammunition clips — including California. Yet the issue remains up for vote because if the ballot measure passes, then it will be protected by California’s rules about ballot measures — that they can only be repealed by another popular vote, unless the initiative itself says that the Legislature can amend it.
NRA hates ballot initiatives because they know they can't intimidate voters like they intimidate Congress. Vote YES on Prop 63 #SafetyForAll
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) July 14, 2016
Earmarks the Spot
Taxing a good to set aside money for a service — earmarks — are back in season. While these revenue measures are often popular with voters, they make some economists cringe: Promising funds for one particular service hamstrings the flexibility of elected officials to prioritize issues over time, critics argue.
This year, though, there’s the smoke-flavored variety. A handful of states, including California, Colorado and Missouri, are going after Big Tobacco. Back in 1988, California raised taxes on cigarettes and earmarked the money for other purposes. Who tried to help block a tax hike on cigs back then? None other than former Fox CEO and Chairman Roger Ailes, the New York Times reported. The argument against: Gangs would increasingly be tempted to smuggle tobacco. Still, these earmarks are typically popular since nonsmokers outnumber smokers at this point by about 5-to-1.
But wait, there are other kinds of earmarks — including some that fund learning — like in Oregon, which will vote on whether to dabble in an earmark to help prevent dropouts.
Voting on How We Vote
In Maine, this could be a wild turn of events. They’ll get out the vote on ranked-choice voting, where preferences are taken into account in the election of local and state reps. In a state that doesn’t easily fall left or right and has opted for a third party (Sen. Angus King, for instance), this might just pass. It would be the largest experiment of its nature in the U.S., though other countries employ ranked-choice voting already. In the U.S., Oakland, California, uses the system for its mayoral race. Not everyone went with it, though. “When I figure out how ranked-choice voting works, I’ll tell you who else I’ll vote for,” California Gov. and Oaklandite Jerry Brown reportedly said.
Big news: Alaska voters could pass automatic voter registration, adding up to 70,000 residents to the voter rolls pic.twitter.com/NylZqnIXnb
— U.S. PIRG (@uspirg) August 2, 2016
Then there’s an initiative in Alaska to automatically register voters when they sign up for the Permanent Fund Dividend, which provides a $1,000 to $2,000 kickback annually. This is creative thinking and smells of the “motor voter” act. A report has found that approximately 70,000 Alaskans qualify for the PFD, but are not registered to vote. That’s about 13 percent of the voting public. You can bet on a bluer state disposition if wider voter registration passes — so keep watching this one.
Payday for the Millennials
The minimum wage debate is contentious. Seattle, which is putting into effect a $15 per hour minimum in the next few years, has some economists worried about unemployment. A handful of states will have the minimum wage question on the ballot, and it’s likely many increases will go into effect. There may be more incremental changes than Seattle, for one, which could help abate some negative consequences.
— Prof. Steve Hanke (@steve_hanke) September 2, 2016
In South Dakota, though, a lowering of the minimum wage for youth workers is up for a vote. The idea: having an $8.50 an hour floor for teens hurts their chances of being hired and diminishes their attractiveness to businesses. Could a two-tiered minimum wage take off in the U.S. like it has in Australia? This might be a key test.
Which ballot initiatives will you be watching? Which are you passionately for? Against? Shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or respond in the comment section below.