An early look at the 2020 ballot measures to watch

The Daily Brew
Welcome to the Monday, December 2, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. An early look at the 2020 ballot measures to watch
  2. How do recalls work in each state?
  3. Eight former Michigan legislators sue to overturn state’s 1992 term limits ballot initiative

An early look at the 2020 ballot measures to watch

Forty-three statewide measures have qualified for 2020 ballots in 20 states. That number is likely to quadruple between now and Election Day. Here’s a chart showing the number of statewide ballot measures in the six previous even-numbered years:

Total measures

Even at this early stage, our Ballot Measures team has identified 10 measures worth watching. Here are three highlights:

California Replace Cash Bail with Risk Assessments Referendum

Californians will decide whether to uphold or overturn a first-in-the-nation law to replace the use of cash bail with risk assessments for all detained suspects awaiting trial. After Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the law on August 28, 2018, the American Bail Coalition organized a PAC to finance the campaign to repeal the law through a veto referendum. The campaign successfully collected 365,880 required signatures. California’s initiative and referendum rules dictate that the law is now suspended until voters decide the referendum on Nov. 3, 2020.

Colorado National Popular Vote Referendum

Since the 2016 election, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact has picked up an additional five states in 2019, bringing the compact 31 electoral votes closer to going into effect. The compact would go into effect if states representing at least 270 electoral college votes join. In Colorado—which has nine electoral votes and was the largest state to join the compact since 2014—a campaign called Protect Colorado’s Vote collected signatures to place a veto referendum on the ballot for Nov. 3, 2020. Now, voters will decide whether Colorado should join the compact or continue to allocate its electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most votes in Colorado.

Marijuana Legalization Initiatives

Since 2012, voters in nine states have approved marijuana legalization measures. In 2020, there could be marijuana legalization ballot measures in several states, including ArizonaNew Jersey, and South Dakota. Arizona would be a second attempt for legalization proponents, as an initiative was defeated in 2016. New Jersey, a state without the initiative process, could vote to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot after the legislature failed to pass a statute. Signatures were submitted for a South Dakota ballot initiative at the beginning of November. Eleven states and the District of Columbia—covering 93 million people, or 28% of the United States—U.S. population have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. Nine states did so through statewide citizen initiatives, and two through bills approved by state legislatures and signed by governors.

How do recalls work in each state?

Since 2012, Ballotpedia has tracked over 1,500 recall efforts against elected officials. States are often called the laboratories of democracy, and that’s no different when it comes to the various processes nationwide around recalls.  Here’s an overview:

Citizens can use the recall process to remove elected officials from office before their term is over in certain states. This process typically involves the circulation of petitions by recall organizers, the evaluation of signatures by election officials, and a public vote if the petitions contain a sufficient number of valid signatures.

Thirty-nine states allow citizens to recall local elected officials, and 19 states permit the recall of state officials. Of those 19 states, citizens in 10 of them can recall any state-level elected official. Seven states only allow citizens to recall state executives and legislators, but not appellate judges. Rhode Island only permits the recall of state executives and Illinois only permits the recall of the governor.

Eligible for recall

Recalls in Virginia take the form of petitions to the state’s circuit courts. Virginia laws state that local officials can be recalled, but it is unclear whether a state official can be recalled. There is no precedent for a state legislator or governor in Virginia having been recalled. Virginia is the only state not to use elections for its recall process; instead, it sends recall petitions to the state Circuit Courts for trial. One recent example of this is the 2017 recall campaign against Petersburg Mayor Samuel Parham and City Councilman W. Howard Myers. Petitions were filed against the two and Judge Joseph M. Teefey heard the recall case on February 6, 2017. However, Teefey dismissed the petitions against Parham and Myers after organizers agreed to withdraw the effort.

Eleven states—Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, and Vermont—do not permit the recall of elected officials. 

Twice a year, we publish aggregate data on the status of recalls. During the first half of 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 72 recall efforts against 115 elected officials. Keep an eye out for our year-end report—summarizing recalls by state and office—that will be published later in December.

Eight former Michigan legislators sue to overturn state’s 1992 term limits ballot initiative 

Eight former state legislators filed a legal complaint Nov. 20 in a federal district court to invalidate provisions of a ballot initiative that enacted term limits on legislators. The 1992 ballot initiative—titled Proposal B—was approved with 58.7% of the vote. Proposal B was designed to limit the number of terms a person could be elected to congressional, state executive, and state legislative offices in Michigan.

State legislators are subject to term limits in 15 states. State legislative term limits came through citizen-initiated ballot measures in each state except Louisiana, where the legislature referred a ballot measure to voters.

Six states have had state legislative term limits overturned. In Idaho and Utah, voters passed ballot initiatives in 1994 establishing state legislative term limits. The state legislatures of those states then repealed those laws in 2002 and 2003, respectively. In Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming, voters approved ballot measures enacting state legislative term limits that were then struck down as unconstitutional by their state supreme courts.