Josh Altic

Josh Altic is a project director at Ballotpedia. Contact us at

Ballot measure records and firsts in 2020

2020 was a unique year for statewide ballot measures. Here are 12 ballot measure-related stories from 2020 that either never happened before or hadn’t happened in a very long time.

  1. Ballot measure campaign finance records were set nationally and in four states: California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Alaska.
  2. Gig economy policies appeared on a statewide ballot for the first time.
  3. Voters passed measures to enact a legal psilocybin mushroom program and drug decriminalization for all drugs for the first time.
  4. Legislators (rather than an initiative signature petition) put a marijuana legalization measure on the ballot for the first time.
  5. Voters decided the first-ever ballot measure on a state-run paid sick and parental leave program.
  6. A state adopted top-four primaries for the first time.
  7. Voters decided a statewide measure proposing a $15 per hour minimum wage for the first time.
  8. Voters, rather than legislators, decided to add their state to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
  9. Statewide initiatives qualified for the ballot through electronic signature petition drives for the first time.
  10. The first measure was referred to the ballot for Louisiana’s December election since at least 1974.
  11. The first constitutional amendments of local applicability were put on the statewide Alabama ballot according to a 2016 process change.
  12. Voters approved the first ballot initiative to reintroduce wolves.

25 states and D.C. will have increased minimum wages in 2021

In 2021, the minimum wage will increase in 25 states and Washington, D.C. The size of the increases range from $0.08 per hour (a 0.8% increase) in Minnesota to $2.25 per hour (a 31.03% increase) in Virginia, and the effective dates for the increases range from October 2020 to August 2021. Increases in 18 states are scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2021.

After these increases occur, minimum wages will range from the $7.25 per hour Federal rate in 20 states to $15.00 per hour in D.C., $14.00 per hour in California, $13.69 per hour in Washington, and $13.50 per hour in Massachusetts. In New York and Oregon, state laws provide for regional minimum wages.

Below are some highlights from Ballotpedia’s annual report on minimum wage increases:

  • In 2021, the largest minimum wage increases based on state laws are $2.25 in Virginia ($7.25 to $9.50), $1.50 in New Mexico ($9.00 to $10.50) and Oregon ($11.25 to $12.75), and $1.44 in Florida ($8.56 to $10.00).
  • Eleven states are increasing their minimum wage due to citizen initiatives approved by voters. The remaining 14 states and D.C. will have minimum wage increases due to bills approved by lawmakers.
  • Nine states index their minimum wage to changes in cost-of-living or inflation; 13 states and D.C. have legislative bills scheduling specific increases; and three states have citizen-initiated measures scheduling specific increases.
  • Out of the nine states with minimum wages indexed to changes in cost-of-living or inflation, eight have minimum wage laws passed through ballot initiatives, and one has a minimum wage law passed by the legislature.
  • Florida voters approved Amendment 2 on November 3, 2020. The citizen initiative was the first time voters considered a ballot measure designed to set a $15 per hour minimum wage.
  • Four states passed minimum wage increase laws in 2020: one ballot initiative in Florida and three legislative bills in Rhode Island, Virginia, and Vermont.
  • Of the 30 states that have a minimum wage higher than the $7.25 per hour Federal minimum wage, 12 passed their existing minimum wage laws through ballot initiatives.
  • Michigan’s minimum wage law requires an adjustment to the state’s minimum wage based on inflation unless the average unemployment rate for the year is 8.5% or higher. In 2020, the average unemployment rate is expected to be higher than 8.5% and the scheduled increase from $9.65 to $9.87 per hour was canceled.

For all the details and data, read the full report here:

Minimum wage increases in 2021

Ballotpedia releases year-end analysis of statewide ballot measures

On December 15, Ballotpedia released its year-end analysis of statewide ballot measures in 2020.

Voters in 34 states decided 129 statewide ballot measures in 2020. Ninety-three were approved and 36 were defeated. One hundred and twenty measures were on the November 3 ballot. Nine measures were on ballots earlier in the year or on December 5. There were also three measures (one each) in the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. All three were approved.

Ballotpedia’s annual report on the 129 statewide measures provides:

a breakdown of measures by topic

highlighted topics and unique measures

a breakdown of approval rates by measure type

historical comparisons of the numbers and types of measures

data on citizen initiative activity compared to recent elections

a summary of signature petition drive costs

campaign finance data and analysis

a comparison of the number of referrals to previous years

a summary of Ballotpedia’s ballot language readability analysis

a summary of bond and tax measures in 2020

Below are some highlights from the report. For more information, graphics, and data, read the full analysis.

Topics and trends

Notable topics and trends this year included election policy and redistricting, marijuana, and taxes.

Statewide measures also included:

• the first-ever appearance of gig-economy policies on a statewide ballot, 

• unique psilocybin mushroom use and drug-crime policy measures, 

• wolf reintroduction, 

• a veto referendum on cash bail, 

• an affirmative action initiative, and 

• state flag and state name change measures.

Citizen initiative activity and historical context

The 129 statewide measures voted on this year were the lowest number on even-year ballots since at least 1980. The recent high point was in 1998, with 272 measures. This year’s total is 26% lower than the average of 172 statewide measures in even-numbered years from 2010 through 2018. 

The 43 citizen-initiated measures on the ballot were also less than in most recent years. The 2020 ballot initiative numbers were higher than in 2014, when 40 citizen-initiated measures made the ballot. It was 27% less than the 2010 to 2018 average of 59 measures. It was 43% lower than the 76 citizen-initiated measures in 2016. Of the 43 citizen initiatives, four were veto referendums, 15 were initiated constitutional amendments, and 24 were initiated state statutes.

In 2020, 881 initiative and veto referendum proposals were filed. In 2016 and 2018, there were 1,069 and 947 filings, respectively. Initiative sponsors had about a 5% success rate qualifying their measures for the ballot after making the initial filing with state officials. In 2016 and 2018, the success rate was 7%.

Signature petition costs

Of the 26 states that allow citizen-initiated measures, 16 had a ballot initiative, veto referendum, or both on the ballot in 2020. At least $87.23 million was spent on signature petition drives to collect the more than 11 million signatures required to qualify the 43 citizen-initiated measures for the ballot. 

The average cost of a petition drive in 2020 was $2.1 million—nearly double the 2018 average of $1.2 million and more than twice the 2010 to 2018 average of $871,468. The cost of successful paid signature petition drives ranged from $108,358 for a pre-November veto referendum in Maine to $8.8 million for Florida Amendment 4. 

The average cost per required signature (CPRS) for 2020 measures of $8.09 was 24% higher than the average in 2018 ($6.52) and nearly double the 2010 to 2018 average of $4.70.

Campaign finance

Committees supporting and opposing the 129 statewide measures this year reported raising a combined $1.20 billion in contributions. In 2016 and 2018, ballot campaigns raised $1.01 billion and $1.19 billion, respectively. The average amount raised in 2020 was $9.3 million, compared to $6.2 million and $7.1 million in 2016 and 2018.

The 43 citizen-initiated measures accounted for about 78% of ballot measure fundraising in 2020. Support campaigns raised 63.1% of contributions, and opposition campaigns raised 36.9%. 

California had 61.5% of all ballot measure campaign finance activity in 2020. Of the 10 most expensive measures in 2020, eight were citizen-initiated measures and two were legislatively referred measures. Six were in California. The other four were in Illinois, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Alaska.


The average Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score for this year’s ballot titles was 17—equivalent to a first-year graduate school reading level. The average grade for all measures in a single state averaged together ranged from 10 in Rhode Island, Washington, and Wyoming to 32 in Virginia.

Bond and tax measures

Seven bond measures proposed a total of $20.82 billion in new debt in California ($20.5 billion), Maine ($120 million), and New Mexico ($199 million). A $15 billion school and college bond in California failed. The other six were approved.

Voters in 14 states decided 21 ballot measures on tax policy. Seventeen of the measures were approved and four were defeated.

Voter turnout in 2020 increased the ballot initiative signature requirements in 10 states

Voter turnout in 2020 elections caused a change in the number of valid signatures required for initiatives and veto referendums in 10 of the 26 states with at least one form of statewide initiative or referendum.

Signature requirements are determined differently depending on the state and, in 2022, will vary from 16,961 for initiated statutes in South Dakota to 997,139 for initiated amendments in California.

The majority of states with citizen-initiated measures—16—base signature requirements on ballots cast for gubernatorial candidates in the preceding gubernatorial election. Four states base signature requirements on total ballots cast in the preceding general election. Of the remaining states, three states base requirements on registered or active voters, one state bases requirements on voters for presidential candidates within the state, one state bases requirements on votes cast for secretary of state candidates, and one state bases requirements on the state population.

Below are some of the changes to ballot measure signature requirements caused by 2020 voter turnout:

• Ballot measure signature requirements increased by a range of between 7.4% and 44.2% in ten states.

• Signature requirements in the four states that base requirements on either presidential election turnout or gubernatorial election turnout in presidential election years increased by between 7.4% and 25%.

• Signature requirements for the four states that base requirements on general election turnout increased by between 26.8% and 44.2%.

• In those four states, turnout was higher than in 2016 as well, causing between 7.6% and 25.1% higher signature requirements than following the last presidential election.

• Signature requirements in the two states that base requirements on voter registration increased by 18% and 18.6%, respectively.

• Washington’s initiative signature requirement increased by 25% to 324,516 for 2021 through 2024. Since at least 2008 when the requirement was 224,880, Washington’s requirement has increased every four years by between 2% and 7%.

• Florida’s signature requirement for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments increased to 885,396 for 2022 and 2024. Since at least 2008 when the requirement was 611,009, Florida’s requirement has increased every four years by between 1% and 12%.

Read Ballotpedia’s full analysis on initiative signature requirement changes caused by 2020 voter turnout to get all of the details.

Louisiana voters reject amendment to allow out-of-state members on university boards

Voters in Louisiana rejected Amendment 1 in the state’s general election held on Dec. 5, 76.5% to 23.5%. The amendment would have allowed the governor to appoint at-large members to the boards of supervisors for the public university systems from out-of-state if there are multiple at-large seats and at least one at-large seat is filled by a member residing within the state. The amendment would have applied to the boards of supervisors for the University of Louisiana System, the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, the Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.

The amendment was approved unanimously in both chambers of the legislature in October 2020. This amendment on the Dec. 5 ballot was the first post-November statewide measure in Louisiana since at least 1974.

State Sen. Cleo Fields (D), who sponsored the amendment in the legislature, said, “Leaders throughout the country have ties to our public universities. In fact, many alumni have skyrocketed to success in other states but are not permitted to give back in the form of board service. A yes on Amendment 1 welcomes new perspectives, expertise, and connections to Louisiana universities. … A yes on Amendment 1 maintains current boards and will only be used if appropriate at the expiration of an existing at-large member’s term.”

The Louisiana Republican Party argued that the amendment could result in positions on boards going “to rich outsiders who would do political favors to obtain such appointments from governors.” The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR), a nonprofit organization, published arguments for and against the amendment. PAR wrote the following argument in opposition to Amendment 1: “There is no requirement that the out-of-state members be graduates of the institutions they will govern. A broader reform might have moved the details of the composition of these boards out of the Constitution and into statute where they can be adjusted as necessary by the Legislature.”

Louisiana voters decided seven constitutional amendments on Nov. 3, approving five and rejecting two. Louisiana voters decided 189 constitutional amendments from 1995 through 2019. Of those, 121 were on even-year ballots amounting to an average of 10 measures per even-numbered year. Voters approved 75 percent (141 of 189) and rejected 25 percent (48 of 189) of the constitutional amendments since 1995.

Additional reading:

Ballotpedia identifies 20 local police-related ballot measures decided Nov. 3

Following the killing of George Floyd on May 25, cities and counties introduced police-related measures. Ballotpedia tracked 20 such measures that appeared on the Nov. 3 ballot. 

All 20 measures were approved or were ahead pending the count of remaining ballots. Note: All vote counts were as of 6:00 p.m. EST on Nov. 11.

Cities and counties that approved these police-related issues in November included:

○ Los Angeles County, California

○ Oakland, California

○ San Diego, California

○ San Francisco, California

○ San Jose, California

○ Sonoma County, California

○ DuPage County, Illinois

○ Akron, Ohio

○ Columbus, Ohio

○ Portland, Oregon

○ Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

○ Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

○ Kyle, Texas

○ King County, Washington

Three notable measures among the 20 were:

Los Angeles County Measure J – This measure requires that no less than 10% of the county’s general fund be appropriated to community programs and alternatives to incarceration. It prohibited the use of those funds for incarceration or law enforcement purposes.

Columbus Issue 2 – This measure created the Civilian Police Review Board to investigate alleged police misconduct, subpoena testimony and evidence during the investigations, make recommendations to the Division of Police, and appoint and manage the new position of Inspector General for the Division of Police. Prior to Nov. 2020, Columbus did not have a police oversight board or commission or an equivalent agency. According to the National Fraternal Order of Police, 20 of the 25 largest city police departments in the U.S. had an oversight board or commission in place as of the beginning of 2020.

Portland Measure 26-217 – This measure amended the city charter to establish a new police oversight board to replace the existing police review board. It allows the new board to subpoena witnesses, request police documents and evidence to investigate complaints made against the Portland Police Bureau, and impose disciplinary actions up to termination of law enforcement professionals. It also authorizes the board to recommend policing policy to the Portland Police Bureau and Portland City Council.

Nov. 4 ballot measure update

As of 7:30 Eastern on Nov. 4, Ballotpedia had called 93 statewide ballot measures, of which 72 were approved and 21 were defeated. The remaining 27 (out of the 120 total) remained uncalled.

Here are some notable measures that we called on Wednesday:

Illinois voters reject a constitutional amendment to allow for a graduated income tax. The ballot measure would have repealed the state’s constitutional requirement that the state’s personal income tax is a flat rate across income. Instead, the ballot measure would have allowed the state to enact legislation for a graduated income tax. More than $121 million was raised by supporters and opponents of the measure. Supporters raised $60.33 million, including $56.5 million from Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Opponents raised $60.86 million, including $53.8 million from Citadel CEO Kenneth C. Griffin.

In California, voters rejected Proposition 16. Proposition 16 would have allowed the use of affirmative action involving race-based or sex-based preferences in California by repealing Proposition 209, passed in 1996, from the California Constitution. Proposition 209 stated that discrimination and preferential treatment were prohibited in public employment, public education, and public contracting on account of a person’s or group’s race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.

Voters also decided that California will not become the first state to end the use of cash bail for all detained suspects awaiting trials. Proposition 25 was a veto referendum targeting the repeal of Senate Bill 10 (2019), which would have replaced cash bail with risk assessments.

Colorado voters approved Proposition 113 by a vote of 52% to 48% according to results available at 6:30 pm on Wednesday. Approval added Colorado (with its nine electoral votes) to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). NPVIC member states agree to give their electoral college votes to the presidential candidate that wins the national popular vote if the NPVIC goes into effect. The NPVIC was designed to go into effect if states representing at least 270 Electoral College votes join, guaranteeing the national popular vote winner is elected. 

Colorado is the first state in which voters decided whether the state should enter the NPVIC. Going into the election, 14 states and Washington, D.C., representing 187 Electoral College votes altogether, had adopted legislation to join the compact. The other 14 NPVIC member states joined the compact through bills signed by Democratic governors or, in Hawaii’s case, through an override of Republican Gov. Linda Lingle’s veto.

California Proposition 25 and Colorado Proposition 113 were two of 2020’s three statewide veto referendums on the Nov. 3 ballot. Veto referendums are measures put on the ballot through signature petitions targeting the repeal of bills recently passed by state legislatures. The last time a veto referendum appeared on the ballot for Colorado voters was in 1932.

The third veto referendum was Washington Referendum 90, which voters approved, upholding a bill requiring public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education for all students. 

On the three measures, California voters sided with petitioners and against the legislature. Colorado and Washington sided with their legislatures and against petitioners. 

Additional reading:

California voters reject affirmative action proposition

California voters rejected Proposition 16 by a vote of 56% to 44% according to results reported on Nov. 4 at 11:00 am. Proposition 16 would have allowed the use of affirmative action involving race-based or sex-based preferences in California by repealing Proposition 209, passed in 1996, from the California Constitution. Proposition 209 stated that discrimination and preferential treatment were prohibited in public employment, public education, and public contracting on account of a person’s or group’s race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.

California voters reject veto referendum to end cash bail for detained suspects awaiting trial

Voters decided that California will not become the first state to end the use of cash bail for all detained suspects awaiting trials. Proposition 25 was a veto referendum targeting the repeal of Senate Bill 10 (2019), which would have replaced cash bail with risk assessments. Voters rejected SB 10 by a vote of 55% to 44% according to results as of Nov. 4 at 11:00 am.

Colorado voters approve paid family and medical leave proposition

Colorado voters approved Proposition 118 in a vote of 57% to 43%. The measure establishes a paid family and medical leave program in Colorado to provide 12 weeks (up to 16 weeks in certain cases) of paid leave (with a maximum benefit of $1,100 per week) funded through a payroll tax to be paid for by employers and employees in a 50/50 split. While eight other states have paid leave programs, this was the first time voters weighed in on the issue through a statewide ballot measure.