Author

Josh Altic

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

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.


Judge rules a simple majority, not two-thirds supermajority, is enough for San Francisco’s 2018 citizen-initiated special tax measures

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman ruled Friday that two measures (both called Proposition C) on the San Francisco ballot in June and November of 2018 were properly certified as approved by city officials. Schulman ruled that the measures proposing tax increases for specific purposes required a simple majority for approval because they were put on the ballot through a citizen signature petition.
 
The ruling stated that the two-thirds supermajority vote requirement for local special taxes in California applies to tax measures referred to the ballot by lawmakers, but not to citizen initiatives. Rex Hime, president of the California Business Properties Association and representing the Howard Jarvis association and the California Business Roundtable, said that plaintiffs would immediately appeal the ruling.
 
California voters approved statewide Proposition 218 in 1996, adding Article XII C: Voter Approval For Local Tax Levies to the California Constitution. The article includes the requirement that local governments may only enact, extend, or increase a special tax with a two-thirds (66.67 percent) supermajority vote of the electorate. Following the passage of Proposition 218, the two-thirds supermajority vote requirement was applied to legislative referrals and citizen initiatives.
 
In August 2017, however, the California Supreme Court ruled in California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland that one requirement contained in Article XIII C—that certain tax measures must be put on the ballot during general elections—did not apply to citizen initiatives. The court categorized taxes imposed by citizen initiatives as separate from taxes imposed by local governments. This ruling brought the two-thirds (66.67 percent) supermajority vote requirement into question for special taxes proposed through citizen initiatives.
 
In June 2018, 50.9% of city voters approved a citizen initiative to authorize an additional tax on the lease of commercial property for landlords with annual gross receipts over $1 million to fund childcare and early education programs. In November 2018, 61.3% of city voters approved a measure authorizing the city and county of San Francisco to impose a gross receipts tax on business to fund homelessness services.
 
 City and county officials in San Francisco argued that the court’s 2017 decision meant that a simple majority—not a two-thirds supermajority—was required for the approval of local citizen initiatives, including tax measures that designate funds for specific purposes. The city certified the 2018 measures and is collecting the June and November Proposition C taxes but is holding the tax revenue until legal disputes are concluded.
 
Christin Evans, a supporter of November’s Proposition C, said, “Obviously, we’re thrilled. We felt that Prop. C was on firm legal ground from the beginning, and the judge’s opinion left no question that voter-led initiatives will be possible going forward to allow the people to help shape city policy.”
 
Rex Hime said, “We are disappointed in today’s ruling but will continue to fight to uphold the will of the voters. Prop. 13 and Prop. 218 are unambiguous — voters want a two-thirds vote requirement for special taxes. We will be filing an immediate appeal.”
 
At least five other local special tax measures, including a third measure in San Francisco, were put on the ballot by citizen initiative petitions and were approved by more than 50% but less than two-thirds of voters.
 
Additional reading:


Signatures submitted for Tucson sanctuary city initiative targeting the November 2019 ballot

On July 3, 2019, proponents of an initiative to make Tucson the first sanctuary city in Arizona submitted 18,155 unverified signatures to election officials. They needed to collect 9,241 valid signatures by July 5, 2019, to qualify the initiative for the November general election ballot.
 
Submitted signatures must now be verified by election officials. The initiative would include 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.
People’s Defense Initiative (also referred to as Tuscon Families Free and Together) sponsored the petition drive for the initiative.
 
Ballotpedia’s August 2017 review of municipal immigration policies found that 32 cities among the nation’s 100 largest 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.
 


Fourteen states approve changes to laws governing ballot measures in 2019

In 2019, 14 states have approved 29 proposals changing laws governing ballot initiatives, veto referendums, referrals, local ballot measures, and recall.
 
Five approved proposals, however, were constitutional amendments requiring voter ratification in 2019 or 2020. Two additional bills were approved by the Idaho State Legislature, but the governor vetoed them. Five citizen-initiated measures directly related to initiative and referendum laws were also filed in Florida, Missouri, and South Dakota. Below are some of the most significant proposals:
  • Arkansas legislators passed a bill to change the timeline for approval of the ballot title and popular name of citizen initiatives to after signatures are submitted and make other changes to the state’s initiative processes.
  • Arkansas legislators sent an amendment to the 2020 ballot increasing the state’s distribution requirement, adding a supermajority vote requirement for the legislature to put amendments on the ballot, and making other changes to laws governing ballot measures.
  • A proposal requiring out-of-state circulators to register and adding other restrictions for circulators was passed in Arizona.
  • A bill banning pay-per-signature, requiring paid circulators to register with the secretary of state, and establishing economic impact statement requirements was passed in Florida.
  • The Maine Legislature passed and the governor signed a bill requiring reporting about which circulators are paid and what the method of payment is, among other requirements.
  • Bills requiring ballot language to be written as simply as possible and making other changes regarding ballot language and public hearings were also passed in Maine.
  • Utah legislators approved five bills changing the initiative process. Changes included: changing signature requirements, requiring county clerks to post the names of those who sign an initiative petition on county websites, requiring funding sources to be specified, and establishing rolling signature submission deadlines.
  • The Idaho State Legislature passed but the governor vetoed a pair of bills that were designed to increase the state’s initiative signature requirement and its distribution requirement, reduce the allowed circulation period, enact a single-subject rule, and require a fiscal impact statement.
In 2018, Ballotpedia tracked 203 ballot measure law change proposals in 34 states. In 2017, Ballotpedia tracked 213 bills in 37 states.
 


Kansas City voters reject citizen initiative to limit revenue used for economic development incentive programs

On June 18, voters in Kansas City defeated Question 1, a citizen initiative that would have limited the property tax abatement or redirection that could be used toward economic development projects in the city to 50% of the revenue that would have otherwise been generated.
 
According to election night results with 97% of precincts reporting, the measure was defeated 66% to 34%.
 
In 2017, the city implemented a 75% incentive cap on ad valorem tax incentives for economic development. Question 1 was a citizen initiative designed to enact a more restrictive cap of 50%.
 
This measure was put on the ballot through a successful initiative petition campaign led by the Coalition for Kansas City Economic Development Reform, also known as the KC TIF Watch. The signature requirement to place an initiative on the ballot in Kansas City is equal to 5% of the total votes cast for mayoral candidates at the last preceding regular municipal election. KC TIF Watch needed to collect 1,708 valid signatures. On November 29, 2018, the city clerk verified that proponents had submitted 2,321 valid signatures.


Louisiana voters will decide a constitutional amendment concerning the state’s board of tax appeals in October 2019

The Louisiana State Legislature gave final approval to a constitutional amendment on Monday that would allow the legislature to expand the authority of the Louisiana Board of Tax Appeals. The amendment will be on the state’s October 2019 election ballot.
 
Rep. Stephen Dwight (R-35) introduced the constitutional amendment as House Bill 428 (HB 428). After the House approved the amendment, the Louisiana State Senate amended it and passed it on June 1, 2019, with 35 senators supporting it, two opposing it, and two absent. The House unanimously concurred with the Senate’s changes on June 3, 2019, certifying it for the ballot.
 
The amendment would require “complete and adequate remedy for the prompt recovery” of any unconstitutional tax paid and to allow the legislature through a two-thirds vote to give the Louisiana Board of Tax Appeals jurisdiction over the constitutionality of taxes, fees, and related matters.
 
The Louisiana Board of Tax Appeals consists of three attorneys appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. The board has jurisdiction over tax and fee disputes. Prior to 2014, the board adjudicated claims brought only against the state department of revenue. A 2014 bill extended the board’s jurisdiction to local sales tax disputes.
 
From 1995 through 2018, Louisiana voters decided 185 constitutional amendments. An average of five measures appeared on odd-year statewide ballots, with a range from zero to 16. Voters approved 75 percent (139 of 185) and rejected 25 percent (46 of 185) of the constitutional amendments.


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