A brief history of ranked-choice voting measures

Welcome to the Friday, September 15, Brew. 

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Ranked-choice voting measures have been on the ballot in four states and 45 localities since 1970
  2. Colorado initiative to limit state property tax revenue may appear on 2024 ballot 
  3. #FridayTrivia: How many states have a secretary of state?

Ranked-choice voting measures have been on the ballot in four states and 45 localities since 1970

Ranked-choice voting (RCV), an electoral system in which voters rank candidates on their ballots, has emerged as a much-talked-about electoral reform in recent years. State lawmakers have proposed more than 100 bills that would implement or prohibit RCV this year alone.

RCV opponents and supporters have long used the ballot measure process to put the system directly before voters. 

Let’s take a look at the history of those ballot measure efforts.

Since 1970, voters have decided 68 RCV ballot measures. Six of those measures appeared on statewide ballots in four states, while 62 appeared in local elections.   

Statewide measures

Since 2002, voters in Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada have decided six statewide ballot measures on whether to approve RCV’s use since 2002. 

Nevada’s Question 3 is the most expensive RCV ballot measure campaign to date, with a total of $25.4 million raised between both campaigns. Supporters raised $23 million. Opponents raised $2.4 million.

The table below shows the five most expensive statewide ballot measure campaigns: 

The top five donors to campaigns supporting RCV ballot measures include:

  • Action Now Initiative ($10.6 million)
  • Katherine Gehl ($6.3 million)
  • Kathryn Murdoch ($5 million)
  • Unite America ($4.6 million)
  • Kenneth Griffin ($3 million). 

All but Kathryn Murdoch and Kenneth Griffin donated to multiple statewide campaigns.

The top five donors to campaigns opposing RCV ballot measures include:

  • Nevada Alliance ($1.7 million)
  • Nevada Conservation League ($310,000)
  • Majority Forward ($250,000)
  • Republican State Leadership Committee ($150,000)
  • Leadership in Nevada ($60,000).

In addition to the second-round vote in Nevada, Oregonians will also vote on an RCV measure in 2024. Oregon’s measure is the first legislatively referred state RCV measure. The six previous state measures were all citizen-initiated measures.

Local measures

Our ballot measure database shows voters decided 62 local RCV ballot measures in 45 local jurisdictions between 1970 and Aug. 2023. Fifty-seven measures proposed adopting RCV, and voters approved 46 (80.7%) of them. Five measures sought to repeal RCV, and voters approved three (60.0%). 

RCV measures have tended to show up on local ballots in waves. For example, between 2001 and 2011, voters decided 25 measures in 21 jurisdictions—and then didn’t decide a single one until 2015. Since 2015, voters have decided 30 RCV proposals in 26 jurisdictions. Voters approved 80% of measures between 2001 and 2011 and 83% of measures between 2015 and Aug. 2023. The year with the most RCV measures  on the ballot was 2022 with nine. Voters approved all nine. 

Since 1970, Californians have decided 11 local measures—the most of any state. Colorado ranks second, with 10, while Washington comes in third, with six.

Since 1914, voters have decided more than 150 state and local RCV measures.

Read more about the history of RCV ballot measures at the link below.
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Colorado initiative to limit state property tax revenue may appear on 2024 ballot 

Speaking of ballot measures, let’s look at a property tax initiative out of Colorado that could appear on the 2024 ballot.

The Colorado Voter Approval to Retain Property Tax Revenue Initiative would limit property tax increases to no more than 4% above the total revenue collected the previous year. The initiative would also allow voters to suspend the cap through a statewide vote, allowing local governments to retain revenue exceeding the 4% growth limit for one year.

Colorado has not had a statewide property tax since 1964. Instead, local governments collect property taxes, which fund county governments, public schools, junior colleges, and special districts.

Proponents said they submitted roughly 225,000 signatures on Sept. 8. The initiative needs 124,238 valid signatures to qualify for the 2024 ballot. The Secretary of State’s office verifies signatures. 

Advance Colorado, a think tank that promotes “limited government, free enterprise, low taxes, and public safety,” sponsored the initiative. Advance Colorado President Michael Fields said, “Coloradans are facing a property tax crisis. Since the legislature has failed to act, citizens are moving this measure forward to allow the voters to decide if they want to cap property tax increases.”

Scott Wasserman, president of the progressive Bell Policy Center, said, “This is exactly the kind of a train wreck our state is trying to avoid, where there is a hard cap for the entire state’s property tax revenue.”

The Colorado Legislative Council staff forecasted that assessed property values could increase 4.7% in 2025. If voters approve the initiative, statewide voter approval would be required to allow local governments to retain property tax revenue above that 4% cap—estimated to be around $115 million. 

Colorado voters are already set to decide a measure on property taxes in November 2023. 

On Nov. 7, voters will decide Proposition HH, which would reduce property tax rates and allow the state to retain and spend revenues that would otherwise be refunded to residents under TABOR, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. TABOR limits state revenue and requires voter approval for all new taxes or tax rate increases. Proposition HH would redirect the revenue that would have been refunded to residents under TABOR to local governments for the purpose of making up lost tax revenues from the property tax rate reduction.

Proposition HH was introduced as Senate Bill 23-303 on May 1. It was passed along partisan lines, with Democratic members in favor and Republican members opposed. Governor Jared Polis (D) signed the bill on May 24. Colorado has a Democratic trifecta.

Advance Colorado was part of a coalition that filed a lawsuit arguing Proposition HH violated a state requirement that ballot measures address a single subject. The state supreme court rejected that challenge on Aug. 21. 

In 2020, residents voted 57.52% to 42.48% to approve a constitutional amendment to repeal what was known as the Gallagher Amendment. The Gallagher Amendment  limited the residential and non-residential property tax assessment rates so that residential property taxes equaled 45% of the total share of state property taxes and non-residential property taxes equaled 55% of the total share of state property taxes.

Forty-seven statewide measures have been certified for the 2024 ballot in 22 states. 

Click below to learn more about the Colorado Voter Approval to Retain Property Tax Revenue Initiative.
Keep reading 

#FridayTrivia: How many states have a secretary of state?

In the Sept. 11 Brew, we looked at Louisiana’s upcoming Secretary of State primary. That election, which features eight candidates——two Democrats, five Republicans, and one independent—will take place on Oct. 14. 

Not every state, however, has a secretary of state. 

How many states have a secretary of state?

  1. 29
  2. 47
  3. 49
  4. 34