Ryan Byrne

Ryan Byrne is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at

Voters approve Alaska Ballot Measure 2 which adopts top-four primaries, ranked-choice general elections

Alaska Ballot Measure 2 was approved with 50.5% of the vote reported as of November 17. Ballot Measure 2 was designed to make several changes to Alaska’s election policies, including:

* replacing partisan primaries with open top-four primaries for state executive, state legislative, and congressional offices;

* establishing ranked-choice voting for general elections, including the presidential election, in which voters can rank the candidates; and

* requiring persons and entities that contribute more than $2,000 that were themselves derived from donations, contributions, dues, or gifts to disclose the sources of the contributions.

Under Ballot Measure 2, Alaska is the first state to adopt top-four primaries for state executive, state legislative, and congressional offices. Like the top-two systems in California and Washington, candidates run in a single primary election, regardless of a candidate’s party affiliation. Unlike in California and Washington, where the two candidates who receive the most votes move onto the general election ballot, Ballot Measure 2 moves the four candidates who receive the most votes onto general election ballots.

At the general election, voters elect state and federal candidates using ranked-choice voting. For state executive, state legislative, and congressional elections, voters rank the four candidates that advanced from their top-four primaries. A candidate needs a simple majority of the vote (50%+1) to be declared the winner of an election. If no candidate wins a simple majority of the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated. People who voted for that candidate as their first choice would have their votes redistributed to their second choice. The tabulation process would continue in rounds until there are two candidates remaining, and the candidate with the greatest number of votes would be declared the winner.

Ballot Measure 2 gives ranked-choice voting proponents their second statewide win after Maine approved Question 5 in 2016. In 2020, Massachusetts also voted on a ranked-choice ballot measure, but it was defeated. On November 3, local ranked-choice voting ballot measures were approved in Albany and Eureka, California; Boulder, Colorado; and Bloomington and Minnetonka, Minnesota.

Alaskans for Better Elections led the campaign in support of Ballot Measure 2. Through October 24, 2020, the campaign’s committees had raised $6.8 million, with contributions from several organizations that seek to change election policies. Action Now Initiative was the largest donor, providing $2.8 million. Unite America was the second-largest donor, providing $2.7 million. Former Rep. Jason Grenn (Independent) was chairperson of the campaign. Green described the ballot initiative as “kind of a three-pronged attack on making our elections better.” Speaker of the Alaska State House Bryce Edgmon (Independent) supported Ballot Measure 2, as did the Alaska Libertarian Party and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld (R). 

Defend Alaska Elections led the campaign in opposition to Ballot Measure 2. Through October 24, Defend Alaska Elections, along with the Protect Our Elections PAC, had raised $472,836. The Alaska Republican Party provided $50,000 to Defend Alaska Elections. The Republican State Leadership Committee also provided $50,000. John Sturgeon, the chairperson of Defend Alaska Elections, described Ballot Measure 2 as “a 25-page-long mess that isn’t fair, democratic, or needed.” Former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D) and former Gov. Sean Parnell (R) opposed Ballot Measure 2.

Ballot Measure 2’s system of top-four primaries and ranked-choice voting general elections will be first used in 2022, which includes the gubernatorial, U.S. House, and a U.S. Senate election in Alaska. 

California Proposition 15, which would have created a split roll property tax, defeated

California Proposition 15 was rejected 48.1%-51.9% based to votes tallied through November 12. Proposition 15 would have required commercial and industrial properties, except those zoned as commercial agriculture, to be taxed based on their market value, rather than their purchase price. In California, the proposal to assess taxes on commercial and industrial properties at market value, while continuing to assess taxes on residential properties based on the purchase price, was known as split roll. 

Proposition 15 would have required that revenue, after accounting for adjustments, be distributed to schools and local governments. The state fiscal analyst estimated that, upon full implementation, the ballot initiative would generate between $8 billion and $12.5 billion in revenue per year.

Proposition 15 would have amended Proposition 13 (1978), which required that residential, commercial, and industrial properties be taxed based on their purchase price. The tax under Proposition 13 was limited to no more than 1 percent of the purchase price (at the time of purchase), with an annual adjustment equal to the rate of inflation or 2 percent, whichever is lower.

More than $148 million was raised for and against Proposition 15, making the measure the second most expensive of 2020 nationwide. Supporters had raised $74.2 million, and opponents had raised $73.8 million. Yes on 15 received contributions from the California Teachers Association ($17.8 million), Chan Zuckerberg Advocacy ($11.6 million), and the SEIU California State Council ($6.3 million). No on 15 received contributions from the California Business Roundtable ($31.9 million), the California Business Properties Association ($1.8 million), and California Taxpayers Association ($1.0 million).

Puerto Ricans approve non-binding statehood referendum

Voters in Puerto Rico approved a non-binding referendum that asked: “Should Puerto Rico be immediately admitted into the Union as a state?” The “Yes” side received 623,053 or 52.3% as of votes recorded on November 9. 

While the ballot measure itself cannot compel the U.S. Congress to act on the issue of Puerto Rico’s political status, the ballot measure contained a provision authorizing the governor to appoint a seven-member commission to represent Puerto Rico in matters and negotiations related to achieving statehood. The commission will meet to develop a transition plan, which the governor can approve or reject, and present the plan to Congress and the President.

This year’s ballot measure is the sixth in Puerto Rico’s history on the territory’s political status, and it was the first one to give voters a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ option on a single potential status.

Notable ballot measure results following the Nov. 3 elections

As of 10:50 AM Eastern Time on Nov. 4, Ballotpedia had called 82 statewide ballot measures, of which 65 were approved and 17 were defeated. The remaining 38 remained uncalled.

Here are some notable results:

Voters approved changes to state drug and criminal justice policies in several states. In Oregon, two ballot measures—Measure 109 and Measure 110—were approved. Measure 109 created a program for administering psilocybin products, such as psilocybin-producing mushrooms and fungi. Measure 110 decriminalized Schedule I-IV controlled substances, such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines. In Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota, voters approved ballot measures to legalize marijuana. Mississippi, along with South Dakota, also approved medical marijuana programs. Voters in Oklahoma rejected a ballot initiative, State Question 805, that would have prohibited the use of a person’s past non-violent felony convictions to impose a greater (enhanced) sentence when sentencing a person convicted of a non-violent felony.

In California, voters approved Proposition 17, which expanded the right to vote to people on parole for felony convictions. In Alabama, Colorado, and Florida, constitutional amendments were approved to state that “only a citizen” of the U.S. who is 18 years old or older can vote. 

Abortion was on the ballot in Colorado and Louisiana. Colorado Proposition 115, which would have prohibited abortion after a fetus reaches 22-weeks gestational age, was defeated. Louisiana Amendment 1 was approved, adding language to the Louisiana Constitution stating that “nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

On election policy issues, both Florida Amendment 3 and Massachusetts Question 2 were defeated. Florida Amendment 3 would have created a top-two primary system, and Massachusetts Question 2 would have adopted ranked-choice voting.

In Colorado, voters approved Amendment B, which repealed the Gallagher Amendment. Colorado Proposition 116 decreased the state income tax rate from 4.63% to 4.55% for individuals, estates, trusts, and foreign and domestic C corporations operating. Colorado Proposition 118 established 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.

In Mississippi, voters approved a new state flag after the state got rid of the older flag that featured the Confederate battle flag. The new flag features a Southern magnolia flower and the phrase ‘In God We Trust’.

In California, three of this year’s most expensive ballot measures—Propositions 21, 22, and 23—were decided. Proposition 21, which would have expanded the ability of local governments to enact rent control, was defeated. Proposition 23, which would have placed certain regulations on dialysis clinics, was defeated. Proposition 22—the most expensive measure in California history—was approved. Proposition 22, backed by Uber, Lyft, Doordash, Postmates, and Instacart, defined app-based drivers as independent contractors and not employees or agents. Therefore, the ballot measure overrode Assembly Bill 5, signed in September 2019, on the question of whether app-based drivers are employees or independent contractors.

Some notable measures that remained uncalled include Alaska’s ranked-choice voting measure, California’s split roll tax initiative , and Colorado’s gray wolf reintroduction initiative.

Illinois voters reject constitutional amendment to allow for a graduated income tax

Illinois voters rejected a constitutional amendment to allow for a graduated income tax by a vote of 55% against to 45% in favor.  

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.

This measure was the most expensive of 2020 outside of California.

Voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota pass ballot measures to legalize marijuana

Ballot measures to legalize marijuana were passed by voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota, bringing the total number of states with laws providing for legal marijuana to 15. 

Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota are the only states besides Alaska that voted for Republican presidential candidates from 2000 to 2016 and that have now voted to legalize recreational marijuana. North Dakota, which also voted for Republican presidential candidates from 2000 to 2016, rejected a recreational marijuana ballot measure in 2018.

As of 8:00 AM ET, the results for this year’s recreational or personal use marijuana measures is as follows:

  • Arizona Proposition 207: 59.8% – 40.02%
  • Montana Initiative 118: 57.7% – 42.3%
  • Montana Initiative 190: 56.6% – 43.4%
  • New Jersey: 66.9% – 33.1%
  • South Dakota: 53.4% – 46.6%

California ballot measures top $700 million in contributions

In California, campaigns have raised more than $694 million through October 17 to support or oppose statewide ballot measures on the November 3 ballot. An additional $13 million was raised for Proposition 13, which was defeated on March 3, bringing the total for the year to $708 million. In 2018, campaigns for and against 16 measures raised $369 million in California for the entire election cycle.

Of the 12 measures on the November ballot, contributions to the campaigns surrounding four of the measures—Propositions 15, 21, 22, and 23—account for 80 percent of the total contributions. Proposition 22, which would define app-based drivers as independent contractors, accounts for 30 percent of this year’s total.

Proposition 22, at $218 million between supporters and opponents, is also the most expensive ballot measure election in California history. The difference in the amount raised by supporters and opponents is 10-to-1. Yes on 22, backed by Uber, Lyft, Doordash, and Instacart, received $199 million. No on 22 received $19 million, with labor unions and organizations as the five largest donors. 

Proposition 15, at $124 million, is the second most expensive ballot measure election in California this year. Proposition 15 would require commercial and industrial properties, except those zoned as commercial agriculture, to be taxed based on their market value, rather than their purchase price.

Yes on 15 raised $63 million, with a $17-million contribution from the California Teachers Association and a $12-million contribution from Chan Zuckerberg Advocacy. Chan Zuckerberg Advocacy also contributed $2 million to oppose California Proposition 20 and $500,000 to support Oregon Measure 110.

No on Prop 15 raised $61 million, with more than half coming from the California Business Roundtable. The California Business Roundtable was also active in opposing Proposition 21, contributing $6.2 million.

Proposition 21 would allow local governments to enact rent control on housing that was first occupied over 15 years ago, with an exception for landlords who own no more than two homes with distinct titles or subdivided interests. Proposition 21 is similar to 2018’s Proposition 10, which would have allowed local governments to enact rent control without specified limits. The campaigns surrounding Proposition 21 and Proposition 10 involve several of the same organizations. Yes on 21 received $40 million, with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation providing 99 percent of the total. No on 21 received $73 million, including $12 million from Essex Property Trust and $11 million from Equity Residential.

Proposition 23 is also similar to a ballot measure that was defeated in 2018 and involves several of the same supporters and opponents. Proposition 23 would require chronic dialysis clinics to: have an on-site physician while patients are being treated; report data on dialysis-related infections; obtain consent from the state health department before closing a clinic; and not discriminate against patients based on the source of payment for care. Yes on 23 received $9 million, which came from the SEIU-UHW West, a labor union that represents healthcare workers. No on 23 received $105 million—12 times the amount that supporters received. DaVita and Fresenius Medical Care, which are both dialysis companies, contributed $67 million and $30 million, respectively.

Across the 12 ballot propositions, three individuals were top donors to several measures related to criminal justice, affirmative action, and voting policies. Connie and Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, contributed a combined $6 million to Yes on 25, which seeks to replace cash bail with risk assessments in California, and $1 million to Yes on 16, which is campaigning to repeal a 1996 state constitutional amendment that prohibited race-based and sex-based affirmative action in public employment, education, and contracting.

Patty Quillin, whose spouse is Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, donated $1 million to Yes on 25 and $1 million to Yes on 16. Quillin donated $2 million to No on 20, which opposes a ballot measure to add crimes to the list of violent felonies for which early parole is restricted; recategorize certain types of theft and fraud crimes as wobblers (chargeable as misdemeanors or felonies); and require DNA collection for certain misdemeanors.

Quillin also contributed $250,000 to Yes on 17, which supports an amendment to allow people on parole for felony convictions to vote, and $250,000 to Yes on 18, which supports a constitutional amendment to allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 at the time of the next general election to vote in primary elections and special elections.

Across the U.S., more than $1 billion has been raised for 129 statewide ballot measures—120 of which are on the November 3 ballot—so far. After California, the state with the most ballot measure campaign finance activity is Illinois, which only has one measure on the ballot.

In Illinois, more than $110 million has been raised for and against a constitutional amendment to allow for a graduated income tax. Massachusetts and Colorado rank third and fourth. Ballotpedia will track ballot measure contributions and expenditures made through the remainder of the election cycle, which ends on December 31, 2021.

Additional reading:

Oregon, Washington, D.C. to vote on ballot measures that address psilocybin, also known as magic mushrooms

In November, Oregon could be the first state to approve a ballot initiative, Measure 109, that legalizes psilocybin. Washington, D.C., is also voting on a measure related to psilocybin and other entheogenic plants and fungi.

Currently, psilocybin, which is derived from certain species of fungi, is listed as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. 

In Oregon, Measure 109 would create a program for administering psilocybin, such as psilocybin-producing mushrooms and fungi, to individuals aged 21 years or older. People would be allowed to purchase, possess, and consume psilocybin at a psilocybin service center and under the supervision of a psilocybin service facilitator after undergoing a preparation session.

Measure 109 faces opposition from a Portland-based group that seeks to decriminalize psilocybin. Zave Forster of Decriminalize Nature Portland stated, “We are concerned about the implications of an elite group of beneficiaries putting a free medicine that grows naturally out of the ground behind a paywall.”

Washington, D.C. is voting on a ballot measure, Initiative 81, to declare that police shall treat the non-commercial cultivation, distribution, possession, and use of entheogenic plants and fungi among the lowest law enforcement priorities. Initiative 81 would define entheogenic plants and fungi as species of plants and fungi that contain ibogaine, dimethyltryptamine, mescaline, psilocybin, or psilocyn. 

Denver, Colorado, was the first local jurisdiction to vote on, and approve, a ballot measure to declare that the adult use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms were of the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities. In California, the Oakland City Council and Santa Cruz City Council passed resolutions to de-prioritize law enforcement actions against entheogenic plants. Most recently, Ann Arbor, Michigan, became the fourth jurisdiction to declare entheogenic plants to be considered the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities.

Both Oregon Measure 109 and D.C. Initiative 81 share a common top funder—the New Approach PAC. The organization is based in Washington, D.C., and supported marijuana legalization measures in previous election cycles. Between 2014 and 2018, New Approach contributed at least $6.9 million to campaigns supporting recreational or medical marijuana measures. Tax filings from prior years show that New Approach received funding from the Van Ameringen Foundation and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. In both Oregon and D.C., no political action committees were organized to oppose the measures.

Additional reading:

Illinois Gov. Pritzker and Citadel CEO Griffin are funding the campaigns surrounding the state’s graduated income tax ballot measure

Over $107 million has been raised for and against a constitutional amendment that would allow for a graduated income tax in Illinois. On November 3, voters will decide the constitutional amendment, which wouldn’t require a graduated income tax itself. Rather, the amendment would repeal the state constitution’s requirement that the state personal income tax is a flat rate. In 2019, the Illinois State Legislature passed a bill that would enact a graduated income tax with six brackets should voters approve the amendment.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker advocated for a graduated income tax on the campaign trail in 2018. Through October 2, Pritzker provided $56.50 million, or 96 percent, of the support campaign’s $59.00 million. “People like me should pay more and people like you should pay less,” said Pritzker.

Opponents of the constitutional amendment have organized several PACs, which together raised $58.69 million through October 2. Kenneth Griffin, CEO of the investment firm Citadel, contributed $46.75, or 96 percent, of the opposition campaign’s total funds. Griffin said a graduated income tax would mean “the continued exodus of families and businesses, loss of jobs and inevitably higher taxes on everyone.”

Pritzker and Griffin have each provided 96 percent of their respective side’s total campaign funds. On the support side, other top donors include the AARP ($674,445), the Omidyar Network ($500,000), and the National Education Association ($350,000). On the opposition side, other top donors include the Illinois Opportunity Project ($550,000), Duchossois Group Executive Chair Craig Duchossois ($200,000), and Petco Petroleum CEO Jay Bergman ($200,000).

Of the 128 statewide ballot measures in 2020, the Illinois constitutional amendment has the second-largest sum of contributions to its support and opposition campaign. In September, The Chicago Tribute reported that the Illinois constitutional amendment “is expected to be the most expensive ballot proposition debate in Illinois history.”

The most expensive in the country for 2020 is California Proposition 22, which would define app-based drivers as independent contractors. The combined support and opposition campaign contributions exceeded $200 million on October 2. Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Doordash, and Postmates provided $186.19 million to the campaign supporting Proposition 22. Opposing PACs received $13.91 million through October 2, with top funders including labor unions, such as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, SEIU-UHW West, and Service Employees International Union.

Additional Reading: