Author

Josh Altic

Josh Altic is a project director at Ballotpedia and can be reached at josh.altic@ballotpedia.org

Colorado voters to consider the national popular vote compact in 2020 through first successful Colorado veto referendum petition since 1932

On Thursday, the secretary of state certified the Colorado National Popular Vote veto referendum for the November 2020 ballot. Voters will decide whether they want to give Colorado’s nine electoral votes to the presidential candidate that receives the most votes nationwide or continue to give them to the candidate that wins the most votes in Colorado. It will be the first veto referendum to appear before Colorado voters since 1932.
 
State Sen. Mike Foote (D-17) and Reps. Emily Sirota (D-9) and Jennifer Arndt (D-53) sponsored Senate Bill 42—the legislation adding Colorado to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). SB 42 passed in the legislature along party lines, with all yes votes coming from Democrats and all Republicans voting against it. Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) signed the bill into law on March 15, 2019.
 
Veto referendum sponsors—opponents of SB 42—reported submitting over 227,000 signatures to the secretary of state on the August 1 deadline, more than the 124,632 valid signatures needed. SB 42 was suspended until voters decide the issue on November 3, 2020.
 
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) is a compact to award member states’ presidential electors to the winner of the national popular vote. The NPVIC would go into effect if states representing at least 270 electoral college votes adopt the legislation. As of August 1, 2019, 15 states and Washington, D.C., together representing 196 electoral votes, had joined the NPVIC.
 
Most states use a winner-take-all system for awarding electoral votes—a candidate who receives 51 percent of the popular vote in a state would receive 100 percent of that state’s electoral votes. In 2016, Donald Trump won the presidential election with 304 electoral votes compared to Hillary Clinton’s 227 electoral votes. Clinton won the national popular vote with 65.84 million votes compared to Trump’s 62.98 million votes. The 2016 election was not the only instance in which the winner of the electoral college did not receive the most popular votes; it happened in five of the 58 presidential elections in U.S. history.
 
Coloradans Vote sponsored the referendum position and is leading the campaign in support of a vote against joining the NPVIC. The group argued that “demanding Colorado’s electors cast their votes this way is theft of our votes for president and gives them to more populated areas like New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. [The current Electoral College system] ensures that the minority always has a voice by allowing smaller, less populated states to have a more proportionate voice in electing our president.”
 
Colorado National Popular Vote (Colorado NPV) is campaigning in support of joining the NPVIC and hopes voters will approve Senate Bill 42. In a statement to Ballotpedia, Co-Chair of Colorado NPV Sylvia Bernstein said, “The Electoral College system has resulted in 5 out of 45 American presidents not winning the popular vote. This does not fairly reflect the will of the voters and is harmful to a modern democracy … We believe every vote by every American for the President should count equally, no matter where you live.”
 
In addition to Colorado, three other states joined the NPVIC in 2019: Delaware, New Mexico, and Oregon. The first state to join was Maryland in 2007. Colorado is a Democratic trifecta. Thirteen of the 15 states to join the NPVIC and Washington, D.C., were controlled by Democratic trifectas at the time. Two were controlled by divided governments.
 
From 1912 to 1932, 13 veto referendums were on the ballot in Colorado, and none have been on the ballot since. Of the 13 referendum efforts, 10 were successful in overturning the targeted legislation. The targeted legislation was upheld by voters on three occasions.
 
Nation-wide since the first in 1906, 521 veto referendums appeared on the ballot in 23 states. Voters repealed 340 (65.3 percent) of the targeted laws. Voters upheld 181 (34.7 percent) of the targeted laws. The states with the most veto referendums on the ballot were North Dakota (75), Oregon (68), and California(48). The states that allowed for veto referendums but had the least number of them were Wyoming (1), Nevada (2), and New Mexico (3).
 


$1.7 million raised by campaigns for and against Phoenix pension and light rail initiatives ahead of Aug. 27 special election

On August 27, Phoenix voters will decide Proposition 105 and Proposition 106 in a special election.
 
If approved, Proposition 105 would end construction of light rail extensions and redirect funds to infrastructure improvements in Phoenix. Building a Better Phoenix sponsored the initiative and argued, “Phoenix taxpayers are wasting BILLIONS on light rail expansion at the expense of other critical infrastructure. This is money that can be used to fix our streets and sidewalks, expand bus and dial-a-ride service, improve lighting and address other infrastructure improvements.” The Building a Better Phoenix committee reported $460,000 in cash contributions, $29,000 in in-kind contributions, and $394,000 in cash expenditures through August 10 (the last day covered by pre-election campaign finance reports). Top donors to the campaign were Mel Martin, Chris Hinkson, Rachel Palopoli, and Scot Mussi.
 
If approved, Proposition 106 would do the following:
  • require annual assessments of the city’s pension debt,
  • limit budget growth if pensions are not 90% funded,
  • earmark revenue over the budget limit to paying down pension debt, and
  • require city officials to reimburse the city for pension benefit employer contributions.
Responsible Budgets Inc. sponsored Proposition 106. Councilmember Sal DiCiccio (District 6) argued, “The City of Phoenix owes $4.4 BILLION on our pensions! Responsible Budgets takes the first steps to addressing Phoenix’s long term funding deficit[.]” The committee reported $197,000 in cash contributions, $101,000 in in-kind contributions, and $298,000 in cash expenditures. Top donors included Pass the Balanced Budget Amendment, Morning in America, and Chuck Warren.
 
Opponents of the initiatives joined to form the Invest in PHX, No on 105 and 106 campaign. Concerning Proposition 105, the campaign argued, “Prop 105 stops all light rail construction and kills light rail plans already approved by voters three times. … It also sends billions in federal dollars to cities in other states.” Concerning Proposition 106, the campaign argued, “Prop 106 is dangerous, and would slash access to critical city services like parks, libraries, senior centers, and support for those experiencing homelessness, just as Phoenix emerges from the worst recession in generations.” The top donors to the Invest in PHX committee were Devil’s Advocate, We Build Arizona, and Greater Phoenix Leadership, Inc.
 
Both measures are citizen initiatives that required 20,510 signatures from registered city voters to qualify for the ballot. In Phoenix, initiative petition signatures must equal 15 percent of the voters who voted in the previous mayoral election.
 


Proponents of 2020 California split-roll property tax initiative start over with revised version

In California, Schools & Communities First announced that it would file a new version of an initiative to require commercial and industrial properties, except those zoned as commercial agriculture, to be taxed based on their market value. Currently, Proposition 13 (1978) requires the taxable value of residential, commercial, and industrial properties to be based on the property’s purchase price, with an annual adjustment equal to the rate of inflation or 2 percent, whichever is lower. The change was estimated to provide $6.5 billion to $10.5 billion in additional revenue. Both the version of the initiative that has already qualified for the 2020 ballot and the refiled version would allocate revenue from the increased commercial and industrial property taxes to local community college and school districts and to local governments.
 
In 2018, proponents spent $3.5 million to qualify their initiative for the 2020 ballot after initially targeting the 2018 ballot. They filed a new version of the initiative on August 13, however, and announced they would be focusing on a new signature petition drive to put the revised version on the ballot.
 
Tyler Law, a spokesperson for Schools & Communities First, said that the campaign would not officially withdraw the currently qualified initiative from the ballot until the refiled initiative qualifies. Law also said of the new effort, “The committee’s got the money. We’re going to get it on the ballot.”
 
What’s different about the new initiative?
 
  • The qualified initiative would provide an exception from reassessment under the new rules for businesses with property value up to $2 million. The revised version would increase that exception threshold to $3 million.
  • Both versions provide a full property tax exemption for businesses with 50 or fewer full-time equivalent employees. The new initiative would add additional requirements for a business to qualify for the exemption:
    • independently owned and operated;
    • located in California;
    • owned by California residents; and
    • no major statewide influence on its industry.
  • Both initiatives allocate a portion of revenue to a fund for community college and local school districts, with the fund distributed to schools based on state formulas. The new initiative, however, specifies that 11% of the school fund would go to community colleges, and 89% would go to public schools, charter schools, and county education offices. It would also require a minimum of $100 per full-time student (adjusted annually based on revenue) for each community college and school.
  • The currently qualified initiative would go into effect on January 1, 2020. The new version would go into effect on January 1, 2022, and would phase in the reassessment rules over up to three years for property at least 50% occupied by small businesses.
 
Another difference between the two initiatives is the signature requirement for qualifying them for the ballot. Based on the low turnout of 2014, the currently qualified initiative required 585,407 valid signatures. Proponents spent $3.5 million to collect 855,623 signatures, with 661,306 of them deemed valid. The revised initiative will need to qualify for the ballot according to requirements determined by turnout at the 2018 election. This means they’ll need 997,139 valid signatures, which is the largest initiative signature requirement in California’s history.
 
Ballotpedia’s aggregation of polling on the initiative that has qualified for the ballot showed support for the measure ranging from 46% to 56%, with an average of 51% and the most recent poll showing 54% approval.
 
Law said, “For forty years, California’s novel approach to taxing commercial and industrial property has starved funding for schools and local communities, disadvantaged small and startup businesses, and exacerbated our housing crisis.” Explaining the revised initiative effort, he said, “[A] robust statewide signature gathering organization began prior to the 2018 election, but the ultimate submission and qualification process placed the initiative on the 2020 ballot. As a result, we are refiling the initiative to substantively strengthen the measure, including expansive new small business tax relief, and widen the path to victory in November 2020.”
 
In response to the new initiative, California Business Roundtable President Rob Lapsley said, “This is just another, equally flawed measure aimed at dismantling Proposition 13. Proponents should at least withdraw their existing measure, which they now acknowledge is fatally flawed. However, there are no tweaks or amendments that can be made to this split roll measure that will prevent it from being a major, multi-billion-dollar tax on all Californians in the form of higher prices on everything we buy – from groceries and gasoline to diapers and day care.” Lapsley is the co-chair of Californians to Stop Higher Property Taxes, the committee registered to oppose the qualified initiative.
 
 


Judge dismisses GOP petition challenge, leaving the Tucson sanctuary city initiative on the November ballot

On Friday, Pima County Superior Court Judge Douglas Metcalf rejected a lawsuit challenging the initiative signature petition for Tucson’s sanctuary city initiative. The ruling means the initiative will remain on the city’s November 5 ballot after being officially certified on August 6. If the initiative is approved, Tucson would become the first sanctuary city in Arizona.
 
The initiative would include in city code a declaration of the city’s sanctuary status and add a new section that includes provisions to:
 
  • restrict law enforcement officers from actions to determine a person’s immigration status under certain conditions;
  • prohibit officers from contacting federal law enforcement agencies to determine a person’s immigration status; and
  • prohibit city employees from inquiring about a person’s immigration status, among other policies.
 
The group Tucson Families Free and Together submitted about 18,000 signatures for the initiative on July 3, 2019. They needed to collect 9,241 valid signatures by July 5 to qualify the initiative for the November general election ballot. Through a random sampling of 871 signatures, the Pima County Recorder found that a projected 71.8% of the submitted signatures were valid. This sent the initiative to the city council, which had two options: (1) approve the initiative, enacting it into law without an election, or (2) put it on the ballot.
 
Three Tucson voters, assisted by the Pima County Republican Party, filed a legal challenge against the sufficiency of the initiative petition. The lawsuit argued that the signature requirement calculated by the city clerk for the initiative of 9,241 was too low and that, according to state law, the requirement should be 12,821. The lawsuit also argued that the Pima County Recorder “only conducted a cursory review of the signatures submitted by the Petitioners, failed to satisfy his statutorily defined duties, and only disqualified 798 signatures despite thousands of facially invalid signatures.” Judge Metcalf rejected the arguments and confirmed that the measure had been properly certified for the ballot.


Tucson sanctuary city initiative officially certified for the November 2019 ballot

The Tucson City Council voted Tuesday to put an initiative on the November 2019 ballot that would enact sanctuary city policies in the city’s code.
 
If the mayor and city council had approved the measure, it would have become law without an election.
 
If the initiative is approved, Tucson would become the first sanctuary city in Arizona.
 
The initiative would include in city code a declaration of the city’s sanctuary status and add the following provisions:
  • restricting law enforcement officers from actions to determine a person’s immigration status under certain conditions;
  • prohibiting officers from contacting federal law enforcement agencies to determine a person’s immigration status;
  • and prohibiting city employees from inquiring about a person’s immigration status, among other policies.
 
The group Tucson Families Free and Together submitted about 18,000 signatures on July 3, 2019. They needed to collect 9,241 valid signatures by July 5, 2019, to qualify the initiative for the November general election ballot. Through a random sampling of 871 signatures, the Pima County Recorder found that a projected 71.8% of the submitted signatures were valid. This sent the initiative to the city council, which had two options: approve the initiative and enact it into law without an election, or send it to the voters.
 
Tucson mayoral candidates Randi Dorman (D), Regina Romero (D), Steve Farley (D), and Ed Ackerley (I) have announced their opposition to the initiative. U.S. Sen. Martha McSally (R) and U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kelly (D) also stated that they oppose the measure.
 
Three Tucson voters, assisted by the Pima County Republican Party, filed a legal challenge against the sufficiency of the initiative petition based on the number of valid signatures required and the percentage of submitted signatures counted as valid.
 
Ballotpedia’s August 2017 review of municipal immigration policies found that 32 of the nation’s 100 largest cities by population self-identified as sanctuary cities or maintained sanctuary policies. As of 2017, 30 of the 32 cities identified as sanctuary jurisdictions had Democratic mayors. The other two had Republican mayors.
 


Nashville voters approve two charter amendments

On August 1, over 80% of Nashville voters approved both charter amendments on their ballots.
 
Amendment 1 will require the mayor to annually submit additional information to the city council concerning the city’s budget, department performance and efficiency, city debt, and authorized bonds.
 
Amendment 2 amended the charter to say that metro education board vacancies are filled by the city legislative body rather than by remaining education board members. This made the charter compatible with state law.
 
Both charter amendments were put on the ballot by the metro council.


Early voting runs July 31-Aug. 23 for Phoenix initiatives on light rail expansion and pensions

Phoenix voters can cast a ballot for the city’s August 27 special ballot initiative election at city hall or through a mail-in ballot during the early voting phase from July 31 through August 23. Two citizen initiatives proposing amendments to the city charter are on the ballot for the election.
 
Proposition 105 would do the following:
  • end construction of light rail extensions;
  • redirect funds from light rail projects to other transportation infrastructure improvements in Phoenix; and
  • prohibit funding other light rail development, with an exception for PHX Sky Train.
 
Building a Better Phoenix sponsored the initiative petition effort and is leading the campaign in support of Proposition 105. Proponents, including Council Member Sal DiCiccio, argue that funding is being wasted on light rail when it should be directed to roads and that light rail use is declining and many city roads are in urgent need of repair.
 
Invest in PHX, Vote no on 105 and 106 is leading the campaign in opposition to both Proposition 105 and Proposition 106. Opponents of Proposition 105, including Mayor Kate Gallego, U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton (D), and U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D), argue that the initiative would reverse previous decisions made by voters to approve funding for light rail expansion and that the city would lose federal and regional funding for light rail development.
 
Proposition 106 would do the following:
  • require annual assessments of the city’s pension debt based on generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and the 10-year average return on investment;
  • limit budget growth if pensions are not 90% funded;
  • earmark revenue over the budget limit to paying down pension debt, with exceptions for police, fire, and first responder services; and
  • require city officials to reimburse the city for pension benefit employer contributions.
 
Responsible Budgets Inc. led the initiative petition drive for Proposition 106. Proponents, including Council Member Sal DiCiccio, argue that the measure requires accurate accounting and transparency into the city’s pension liabilities and provides the beginning of a long-term solution to pension debt.
 
Opponents argue the initiative would prevent the city from fully funding services—such as parks, libraries, senior centers, and homeless services—and would reduce the value of the city’s pension plan for fire and police employees and other city officials.
 
Proponents of each measure needed to submit 20,510 valid signatures (15% of ballots cast for mayoral candidates in the previous mayoral election) to qualify their initiative for the ballot.
 
Voters on the Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL) will be automatically mailed an early voting mail-in ballot starting this week. Voters can also request a mail-in ballot through August 16. Voting centers will be open for the election on August 24 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., August 26 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.?, and August 27 from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
 
Additional reading:


New York City 2019 Charter Revision Commission puts 19 proposals on the November ballot, including ranked-choice voting

On July 24, the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission gave final approval to 19 proposals grouped into five separate ballot questions. Voters will decide in favor or against all proposals grouped within a question together. The questions must now be sent to the city clerk before August 5 for inclusion on the November 5 ballot. The five questions relate to the following topics:
  • Question 1: Elections (three proposals)
  • Question 2: Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) (five proposals)
  • Question 3: Ethics and Government (five proposals)
  • Question 4: City Budget (four proposals)
  • Question 5: Land Use (two proposals)
One proposal concerning units of appropriation approved in June by the commission for drafting by staff was removed from the list.
 
Question 1 proposes implementing ranked-choice voting for primary and special elections beginning in 2021 for the offices of mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president, and city council. It would not apply to any regular general elections.
 
Ranked-choice voting is a system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated, and second choices from those ballots are counted instead. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority. New York City Question 1 would allow voters to rank preference for up to five candidates.
 
Currently, New York City uses a plurality voting system—also called first-past-the-post or winner-take-all—for most municipal elections. In a plurality voting system, the candidate with the most votes wins outright. A combination of plurality and run-off voting systems is used for primary elections for the offices of mayor, comptroller, and public advocate.
 
Question 1 would also change the timing of special elections to fill vacancies and for city council redistricting.
 
Question 2 has five proposals concerning the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB). The CCRB investigates complaints by members of the public against NYPD officers and recommends disciplinary actions. Changes include adding board members appointed by the public advocate and jointly by the mayor and speaker of the council, allowing the council to appoint members without approval from the mayor, establishing a minimum budget for the CCRB based on a ratio of CCRB staff and city police officers, and provisions concerning the board’s authority to investigate false statements and delegate its power to issue and enforce subpoenas.
 
Question 3 changes the structure of the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB), sets rules and restrictions related to ethics and campaigns for certain city staff and members of the COIB, and makes changes to the reporting requirements and operations of the Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise.
 
Question 4 contains four proposals related to the city’s budget. It gives authority within the charter to establish a city rainy-day fund. The fund could not be established without changes to state law. It would also establish minimum budgets for the public advocate and borough presidents and would add requirements regarding the timing of financial reports submitted by the mayor to the city council.
 
Question 5 makes changes to the reporting and timing requirements for Uniform Land Use Review Procedure projects.
 
The ordinance creating the 15-member New York City Charter Commission of 2019 was approved by the New York City Council on April 11, 2018, and signed by the mayor on April 30, 2018. The commission is tasked with reviewing the New York City Charter and putting proposals for amending the charter before voters at the November 2019 ballot. The commission has 15 members appointed as follows:
  • four members appointed by the mayor;
  • four members appointed by the speaker of the city council;
  • five members appointed by the five borough presidents (one each);
  • one member appointed by the public advocate; and
  • one member appointed by the comptroller.
The last charter revision commission tasked with a full revision of the city charter put proposals on the 1989 city ballot. The revisions proposed by the 1989 commissioner were approved by voters. There have been other charter revision commissions approved for more specific purposes since 1989, including a commission launched by the mayor to put charter amendments on the November 2018 ballot.
 
Additional reading:


Tucson sanctuary city initiative qualifies for the ballot after random sampling of signatures verified

On Monday, the Pima County Recorder certified that enough signatures submitted for the Tucson sanctuary city initiative were valid to qualify it for the ballot. The initiative now goes to the city council. If the mayor and city council do not approve it, the initiative goes onto the November 2019 ballot. If the mayor and city council approve the measure, it will become law without an election.
 
The initiative would include in city code a declaration of the city’s sanctuary status and add a new section that includes provisions:
  • restricting law enforcement officers from actions to determine a person’s immigration status under certain conditions;
  • prohibiting officers from contacting federal law enforcement agencies to determine a person’s immigration status; and
  • prohibiting city employees from inquiring about a person’s immigration status, among other policies.
The group Tucson Families Free and Together submitted about 18,000 signatures on July 3, 2019. They needed to collect 9,241 valid signatures by July 5, 2019, to qualify the initiative for the November general election ballot. Through a random sampling of 871 signatures, the Pima County Recorder found that a projected 71.8% of the submitted signatures were valid. Unless there is a successful legal challenge, this means enough of the submitted signatures were valid to qualify the initiative for the ballot.
 
The Pima County Republican Party announced it would assist in a legal challenge against the sufficiency of the initiative petition based on the number of valid signatures required and the percentage of submitted signatures counted as valid.


Four new statewide ballot measures certified for 2019 and 2020

Four new statewide ballot measures were certified for 2019 and 2020 ballots in the past 30 days.
 
Three statewide measures were certified for 2019 in Maine, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Here’s what they would do:
  • Maine: allow legislation to let persons with physical disabilities that prevent them from signing their own names use an alternative signature to sign petitions for citizen-initiated ballot measures.
  • New Jersey: extend an existing $250 property tax deduction that veterans receive to continuing care retirement centers on behalf of the veterans living there, and require retirement centers to pass the value of the deduction on to veterans in the form of credits or payments. 
  • Pennsylvania: add specific rights of crime victims, together known as a Marsy’s Law, to the Pennsylvania Constitution.
 
A 2020 measure to establish the authority of state and local governments to pass campaign finance laws was certified in Oregon.
 
All four statewide measures certified in the past month were proposed constitutional amendments referred to the ballot by state legislatures.
 
Proponents of a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment in Florida designed to state that only citizens of the United States are qualified electors announced that they had collected 1.5 million signatures seeking to qualify their measure for the 2020 ballot; they need to submit 766,200 valid signatures and have them verified prior to a deadline on February 1, 2020.
 
Proponents of a 2019 sanctuary city measure in Tucson also submitted signatures for their initiative.


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