Ryan Byrne

Ryan Byrne is a staff writer at Ballotpedia and can be reached at

Michigan GOP sues to block Proposal 2, arguing the member-selection process violates the party’s associational rights

On August 22, 2019, the Michigan Republican Party filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Western Michigan seeking to block Proposal 2, which transferred the power to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts from the state legislature to a 13-member independent redistricting commission. Voters approved Proposal 2, with 61 percent voting in favor of the constitutional amendment.
Laura Cox, chairperson of the state Republican Party, said Proposal 2 violated the party’s freedom of association as the amendment prevented parties from selecting their own members to serve on the redistricting commission.
Proposal 2 requires applicants for the redistricting commission to attest under oath regarding their partisan affiliation. However, Proposal 2 does not require the state department to confirm individuals’ partisan affiliation. As of 2019, voters in Michigan do not have an option to declare their partisan affiliation on voter registration forms.
Proposal 2 was designed to allow the legislative leaders from the two major parties to strike up to five applicants each (between the leaders, 20 strikeouts total) from the pool of 60 Republicans, 60 Democrats, and 80 non-affiliated applicants. Thereafter, a random selection from each partisan pool takes place, with four Republicans, four Democrats, and five non-affiliated applicants being selected.
The Michigan GOP’s legal complaint said applicants could self-affiliate with the Republican Party “without any involvement or consent of the applicable political party and without any specific consideration of the applicants’ past or current political activity, expression, or involvement.” The process, according to attorneys Gary Gordon and Charlie Spies, could allow Democrats to self-affiliate as Republicans “in an effort to alter the party’s selection process and weaken its representation on the commission by individuals who genuinely affiliate with MRP.” Stu Sandler, general counsel for the Michigan GOP, said, “In every other system that’s been created like this, political parties or legislative leaders have had the ability to select, or there’s been a strong history of voter registration so that you can tell who’s been a part of the party and who hasn’t.”
As of August 2019, six states have enacted laws for independent redistricting commissions for congressional districts. In Arizona, California, Colorado, and Idaho, registered voters can select to affiliate with a political party on their voter registration forms. Like Michigan, Washington does not have a party-affiliation option on voter registrations. The Washington process involves legislative leaders of the two major parties each selecting a member of the redistricting commission, and the four leader-appointed members appointing a fifth member.
Responding to the Michigan GOP filing the lawsuit, Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) said, “Our position on this matter has not changed. Our office will continue to vigorously defend Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the legality of the redistricting commission, preserving the will of the people and their right to adopt amendments to Michigan’s Constitution at the polls.”
The Michigan GOP’s lawsuit is the second to be filed against Proposal 2. Another—Daunt v. Benson—argues that Proposal 2 unconstitutionally restricts who can serve on the commission by prohibiting individuals who, during the six years prior, were partisan candidates; partisan elected officials; officers of political parties; paid consultants or employees of candidates, officials, campaigns, or political action committees; state legislative employees; lobbyists; other specified state employees; and the parents and children of aforementioned persons from serving on the commission.

Want to be Missouri’s redistricting demographer? Here’s what you need to know.

Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway (D) is looking for candidates to fill the state’s position of nonpartisan demographer, which the voter-approved Amendment 1 added to the Missouri Constitution in 2018. The nonpartisan demographer is responsible for drawing state legislative redistricting maps. As of 2019, the position of nonpartisan demographer is unique amongst the states.
Galloway said her office will accept applications between September 5 and December 4, 2019. Amendment 1 requires applicants to be state residents and to not have served in a partisan, elected position during the previous four years. Amendment 1 gives the state auditor the power to determine what other qualifications and expertise an applicant would need to serve as the nonpartisan demographer. So, what minimum qualifications does an individual need to serve as the state’s new nonpartisan demographer? There are two possible routes to meeting the minimum requirements:
(1) A Master’s degree in Demography, Geography, Statistics, Economics, Sociology, Urban Planning, Anthropology, Epidemiology, or Actuarial Science, with coursework in demographic or statistical analysis, and three or more years of experience in modeling, analysis, forecasting and project management, and utilizing geographic information systems, database, and statistical software applications.
(2) A Bachelor’s degree in the same-fields mentioned above and five or more years of experience in the aforementioned areas.
In 2020, the state auditor will select at least three applicants with sufficient experience and qualifications from the pool of submissions and submit the list to the Missouri State Senate’s majority leader and minority leader. If the majority and minority leaders agree on a single candidate, then that person will be selected to serve as the nonpartisan demographer. If the leaders disagree, each will strike one-third of the candidates from the list, and the auditor will conduct a random lottery of the remaining applicants for the job.
The nonpartisan demographer would need to consider the following criteria when drawing maps, in order of priority: (a) equal population; (b) requirements of the U.S. Constitution and federal law; (c) partisan fairness, defined as parties being able to translate their popular support into legislative representation; (d) competitiveness, defined as parties’ representation in the state legislature being similarly responsive to changes in the electorate’s preferences; (e) contiguousness; (f) coincide with boundaries of political subdivisions, such as counties and towns; and (g) compactness. The concepts of partisan fairness and competitiveness are based on formulas found in Amendment 1.
The nonpartisan demographer will file maps with the House and Senate apportionment commissions. Both commissions are composed of half Democrats and half Republicans. To make changes to the demographer’s proposed legislative redistricting map, the plan needs to win the support of 70 percent of the commissioners in the respective commission. If no changes are made or approved, the demographer’s tentative plan becomes final.

Voters in Ohio could decide whether nuclear, coal and solar plants should receive subsidies in 2020

On July 29, 2019, the campaign Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts filed a petition for a veto referendum against House Bill 6 (HB 6), which was designed to enact surcharges on customers of electric utilities to provide credits to FirstEnergy Solutions’ Davis–Besse Nuclear Power Station and Perry Nuclear Power Plant, Ohio Valley Electric Corporation’s (OVEC) two coal-fired power stations, and six solar-power stations. HB 6 was also designed to decrease the state’s renewable portfolio standard from 12.5 percent (by 2027) to 8.5 percent (by 2026) and decrease the state’s energy efficiency standards from a 22-percent reduction from 2008 levels to 17.5-percent reduction from 2008 levels by 2027.
Gene Pierce, spokesperson for Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, described the campaign’s goal, stating, “Ohio families and businesses know H.B. 6 is a costly attack on Ohio consumers. This is the first step in rolling back this corporate bailout and reinstating Ohio’s renewable standards.” Pierce also said the organizations behind Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts are not being disclosed at this time. While HB 6 was in the Ohio State Legislature, Americans for Prosperity–Ohio, the Environmental Defense Fund, and The Ohio Manufactures’ Association, among others, testified against the legislation.
House Speaker Larry Householder (R-72), a supporter of HB 6, responded to opponents. He said, “The only folks that have a tremendous interest in closing down our nuclear power plants, where Ohio generates its energy and where there are Ohio jobs, are people from outside the state of Ohio who want to monopolize our grid. And who are they? They’re foreign nationals from China.”
Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signed House Bill 6 (HB 6) into law on July 23, 2019. Rep. Jamie Callender (R-61) and Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-91) sponsored HB 6. The final version of HB 6 was passed in the Ohio State Senate on July 17, 2019. The vote was 19-12. The Ohio House of Representatives passed HB 6 on July 23, 2019, in a vote of 51-38. About two-thirds of legislative Republicans and one-third of legislative Democrats supported HB 6.
Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts can begin collecting signatures for the veto referendum if Attorney General Dave Yost (R) determines that the petition contains a fair and truthful statement on House Bill 6. Yost has until August 8, 2019, to make the determination. In Ohio, signatures for a veto referendum need to be filed 90 days after the bill’s enrollment, which gives Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts until October 21, 2019, to collect the 265,774 required signatures.
Since the adoption of the referendum process in Ohio in 1912, voters have addressed 13 veto referendums. Voters repealed 11, or 85 percent, of the bills put on the ballot via a veto referendum.

Bernie Sanders endorses 2020 California initiative to change how commercial and industrial properties are taxed

On July 25, 2019, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) spoke at the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) Leadership Conference in Los Angeles, California, where he endorsed a ballot initiative to change how the state levies taxes on commercial and industrial properties and allocate the revenue resulting from the change to local governments and school districts. The ballot initiative has qualified for the election on November 3, 2020. UTLA is a supporter of the ballot initiative and has provided the campaign Schools and Communities First, which is behind the proposal, with $435,000.
Sen. Sanders is the first presidential candidate to endorse the ballot initiative. He said that billionaires and real estate developers shouldn’t receive tax breaks “while 500,000 people are sleeping out on the streets tonight and when our kids aren’t getting the education they deserve.”
Since 2016, Sen. Sanders has endorsed five statewide ballot measures in California, including Propositions 50, 61, and 64 in 2016 and Proposition 10 in 2018. Proposition 59, which advised the state’s officials on the electorate’s position on Citizens United v. FEC, and Proposition 64, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana, were approved. Proposition 61, which would have enacted a new regulation on drug prices, and Proposition 10, which would have expanded local rent control, were defeated.
The 2020 ballot initiative would amend the state constitution to require commercial and industrial properties, except those zoned as commercial agriculture, to be taxed based on their market value. 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 purchase price, is known as split roll. As of 2019, Proposition 13 (1978) requires the taxable value of residential, commercial, and industrial properties to be based on 1 percent of the property’s purchase price, with an annual adjustment equal to the rate of inflation or 2 percent, whichever is lower. According to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, market values in California tend to increase faster than 2 percent per year, meaning the taxable value of commercial and industrial properties is often lower than the market value.
Furthermore, the ballot initiative would create a process in the state constitution for distributing revenue from the revised tax on commercial and industrial properties, with 60 percent being distributed to local governments and special districts and 40 percent being distributed to school districts and community colleges.
Opponents of the ballot initiative include the California Business Roundtable, California Chamber of Commerce, and California Taxpayers Association. Rex Hime, president of the California Business Properties Association, stated, “California already has the worst climate for business and job creation in the country. A split-roll property tax will just increase pressure on many businesses that are already finding it hard to make ends meet.”

Maine could vote on a physician-initiated death referendum in November or June

In April 2018, when Maine had a divided government, the group Maine Death with Dignity launched a ballot initiative to legalize physician-assisted death in the state. Maine Death with Dignity collected around 72,000 signatures—about 9,000 more than required—for the ballot initiative but decided against submitting signatures after Gov. Janet Mills (D), elected the previous November, signed LD 1313 on June 12, 2019. LD 1313 was written to allow adults suffering from a terminal illness to request medications that can be self-administered to end his or her life. Valerie Lovelace, chairperson of Maine Death with Dignity, said, “We are so proud and grateful to finally be heard by our lawmakers and our governor on this issue.”
Some opponents, however, preferred a public vote over a legislative vote on legalizing physician-assisted death. Because Maine is one of 23 states that provides citizens with a process for veto referendums, voters could still have the final word on physician-assisted death. Kandyce Powell, executive director of the Maine Hospice Council, filed the veto referendum after the 2019 legislative session adjourned on June 20, 2019. The veto referendum was approved for signature gathering on July 11, 2019.
The veto referendum could appear on the ballot for the election on November 5, 2019, or June 9, 2020, depending on when signatures are submitted and verified. Opponents of LD 1313 have until September 18, 2019, to collect and file 63,067 valid signatures.
Maine became the eighth state with a law providing for physician-assisted death after Gov. Mills signed the legislation. Three of those states—Colorado (2016), Oregon (1994), and Washington (2008)—authorized physician-assisted death through citizen-initiated ballot measures. Voters in Maine rejected a physician-assisted death ballot initiative in 2000, with 51.3 percent voting to reject the measure.
Maine’s legislation passed 73-72 in the House, with Democrats divided 68-17. One Republican supported the legislation, while the remaining were opposed. In the Senate, the vote was 19-16, with 18 Democrats and one Republican supporting the legislation, and 13 Republicans and three Democrats opposing the legislation.
Since Maine adopted the referendum process in 1908, there have been 30 veto referendums on the ballot. The last veto referendum was in 2018 when voters overturned legislation designed to postpone and repeal ranked-choice voting. Of the 30 bills placed before voters as veto referendums, 18 of them (60 percent) were overturned at the ballot box. Voters upheld 12 (40 percent) of the bills.
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Veto referendum to reinstate religious and philosophical vaccination exemptions approved for signature drive in Maine

In Maine, a veto referendum was launched to overturn Legislative Document 798 (2019). LD 798 eliminates religious and philosophical, but not medical, exemptions from vaccination requirements for students to attend schools and colleges and employees of healthcare facilities. The organization Mainers for Health and Parental Rights is leading the campaign sponsoring the veto referendum effort. Mainers for Health and Parental Rights has until September 18, 2019, to collect the 63,067 valid signatures required to place a veto referendum on the ballot. The veto referendum could appear on the ballot for November 5, 2019, or June 9, 2020, depending on when signatures are submitted and verified.
Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed LD 798 into law on May 24, 2019. The Maine House of Representatives passed LD 798 in a vote of 79-62 on May 21. The Maine State Senate passed LD 798 in a vote of 19-16 on May 23,. Most legislative Democrats—74/88 in the House and 18/21 in the Senate—voted to pass the legislation. Most legislative Republicans— 51/56 in the House and 13/14 in the Senate—voted to reject the legislation. Independents were divided 2-4. In 2019, Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature, as well as the governor’s office, making Maine a Democratic trifecta. Prior to 2019, Maine was a divided government.
With LD 798, Maine became the fourth state to prohibit non-medical exemptions from vaccination requirements for students to attend schools. The other states, at the time of passage, were California, Mississippi, and West Virginia, according to NCSL. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation three weeks after Gov. Mills did to end his state’s religious and philosophical vaccination exemptions and make New York the fifth state.
Since Maine adopted the referendum process in 1908, there have been 30 veto referendums on the ballot. The last veto referendum was in 2018, when voters overturned legislation designed to postpone and repeal ranked-choice voting. Of the 30 bills placed before voters as veto referendums, 18 of them (60 percent) were overturned at the ballot box. Voters upheld 12 (40 percent) of the bills.
There have been at least four citizen-initiated measures addressing vaccination in the U.S. Oregon voted on initiatives in 1916 and 1920, Arizona voted on an initiative in 1918, and California voted on an initiative in 1920. Voters rejected the initiatives in Oregon and California. In Arizona, the initiative was approved, prohibiting minors from receiving vaccinations without the consent of their guardians.

California to require background checks for ammunition purchases beginning July 1

Beginning on July 1, 2019, California will become the first state to require point-of-sale background checks to purchase firearm ammunition. Proposition 63, which voters approved in 2016, in conjunction with other legislation created the requirement and set the enactment date. Proposition 63 was a ballot initiative designed to ban large-capacity magazines, require background checks for people who purchase ammunition in California, and prohibit out-of-state purchases of ammunition unless the ammo is transferred to an in-state dealer who can run a background check.
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who was lieutenant governor in 2016, was involved in developing Proposition 63. On June 24, Gov. Newsom discussed the background checks going into effect, saying, “At the end of the day, it is a perverse fact: Guns don’t kill people. Unless a gun is used as a blunt instrument, a gun is not particularly dangerous. A gun requires a dangerous component and that’s ammunition.”
Chuck Michel, an attorney of the NRA and California Rifle & Pistol Association, stated, “For retailers and the average recreational shooter, these new requirements are going to, at a minimum, create practical and financial problems and friction when trying to make a simple ammunition purchase, and they will do nothing to stop access by criminals who have so many other ways to get ammunition.”
Proposition 63 is facing at least two court challenges. In Duncan v. Becerra, Judge Roger Benitez of the U.S. District Court for Southern California ruled that Proposition 63’s ban on large-capacity magazines violated the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Attorney General Xavier Beccera (D) appealed Judge Benitez’s ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Proposition 63 is also the subject of Rhode v. Becerra—a case in which plaintiffs argue that the initiative’s out-of-state ammo ban violates the Second Amendment and imposes an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce. Both of the cases are ongoing.
Four other states—Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey—require individuals to obtain licenses to purchase ammunition, which include an initial background check, but do not require background checks at point-of-sale. In 2013, New York passed legislation for a point-of-sales background check for ammunition, but the law has not gone into effect.

Voters in New Jersey will decide ballot measure to expand veterans’ property tax deduction to those living in retirement centers

At the election on November 5, 2019, voters in New Jersey will decide a constitutional amendment to expand the state’s veterans’ property tax deduction to eligible veterans living in continuing care retirement centers.
In New Jersey, veterans who were honorably discharged or released under honorable circumstances from active duty are eligible to receive a $250 deduction from their property tax bill. Surviving spouses of honorably discharged veterans who are decreased or soldiers who died on active duty during a war can also claim the deduction as well.
The constitutional amendment would extend the $250 deduction to otherwise eligible veterans and surviving spouses who live in continuing care retirement centers. The retirement centers would receive the deductions on behalf of the veterans and surviving spouses living there and be required to pass the deductions on to veterans and surviving spouses in the form of a payment or credit. The Office of Legislative Services Estimate projects that the expanded deduction would cost between $350,000 and $550,000 per year.
Since the enactment of the current state constitution in 1947, New Jersey has provided veterans with property tax benefits. The original benefit was a $500 exemption from a property’s assessed value. The benefit was changed from an exemption on assessed value to a $50 deduction from a property tax bill in 1963. In 1999, voters passed a constitutional amendment to increase the deduction from $50 to $250 over four years.
The constitutional amendment was referred to the ballot for voter consideration after receiving unanimous approval in the state Senate on May 30, 2019, and the House on June 20, 2019. It was sponsored by a bipartisan group of seven state senators.
The legislature can refer additional constitutional amendments, along with bond measures, to the state’s November ballot until three months before the election, which is August 5, 2019. Between 1995 and 2017, an average of one constitutional amendment has appeared on odd-year ballots in New Jersey. Of the 31 constitutional amendments on the ballot during that period, voters approved 28 (90 percent) of them. The New Jersey constitutional amendment is the 22nd ballot measure to be certified 2019 statewide ballot.

Maine to vote on a ballot measure to allow persons with physical disabilities to sign initiative petitions using an alternative signature

In November, voters in Maine will decide a constitutional amendment to authorize legislation
allowing persons with physical disabilities that prevent them from signing their own names to use an alternative signature to sign petitions for citizen-initiated ballot measures. It’s the first ballot measure certified for the election on November 5, 2019, in Maine.
The Maine State Constitution requires people to sign petitions for citizen-initiated ballot measures with their original signature. The state constitution does not have a similar requirement for candidate petitions. In 2005, the Maine State Legislature passed a law allowing persons with physical disabilities to register to vote and sign candidate petitions using an alternative signature, defined as a signature stamp or having a registered voter sign the petition on the person’s behalf. Melissa Packard, the state Director of Elections, said, “it was determined that a constitutional amendment would be needed to authorize a similar process for direct initiative and people’s veto petitions.”
The constitutional amendment required a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the Maine State Legislature to be placed on the ballot. Rep. Bruce White (D-109) was the constitutional amendment’s lead sponsor. He said, “This legislation addresses a constitutional contradiction in that historic work that prevents people with some disabilities from participating in the process of petitioning their government, as the Constitution requires that signatures for initiatives and people’s vetoes must be original signatures, made by the voter themselves. This is an obvious problem for people who, for example, are quadriplegic, or have Parkinson’s, or have no hands at all. This proposal would give the Legislature room to make allowance for alternatives to original signatures on citizen initiatives and people’s vetoes, such as proxies and self-inking stampers, for example, as are allowed for in other sections of the law.”
Between 1995 and 2018, voters in Maine decided 15 constitutional amendments, approving 11 and rejecting four. The average number of constitutional amendments on an odd-year ballot during that period was one. The Maine State Legislature had until the end of the session on June 20, 2019, to pass constitutional amendments. While just one constitutional amendment was passed before June 20, the Portland Press Herald reported that Democratic leaders expected a special session to address bond ballot measures. A special session could also address two constitutional amendments—an Equal Rights Regardless of Sex Amendment and a Constitutional Right to Food Amendment. Gov. Janet Mills (D) wanted the legislature to refer $239 million in bond measures to voters, but a disagreement between Democrats and Republicans on whether to take a vote on the bonds as a package or on each individual bond led to the bill failing to meet the two-thirds vote requirement.

Voters in Pennsylvania to decide Marsy’s Law, a type of constitutional bill of rights for crime victims, in November 2019

Voters in Pennsylvania will decide Marsy’s Law, a type of constitutional bill of rights for crime victims, on November 5, 2019. The constitutional amendment was referred to the ballot on June 19, 2019, after a two-session legislative process.
The ballot measure would provide crime victims with specific constitutional rights, including a right to be treated with fairness and respect for the victim’s safety, dignity, and privacy; a right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay and a prompt and final conclusion of the case; a right to have the safety of the victim and victim’s family considered when setting the bail amount and release conditions for the accused; and a right to full and timely restitution from the person or entity convicted.
In Pennsylvania, a majority vote is required in two successive sessions of the Pennsylvania General Assembly to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot. In 2018, the state House and Senate both passed Marsy’s Law in unanimous votes. In 2019, the House voted 190-8 and the Senate voted 50-0. Of the eight state representatives to vote “No,” two were elected in November 2018, and thus weren’t seated to vote in 2018, and six switched their votes from the previous session.
Gov. Tom Wolf (D) and State Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm, who former Gov. Tom Corbett (R) appointed in 2013, support Marsy’s Law. The ACLU of Pennsylvania opposes the constitutional amendment. Gov. Wolf said Marsy’s Law “will amend the state constitution to provide crime victims with equal protections and participation in the process. Victims and their families deserve equity.” Andy Hoover, the PA ACLU’s communications director, stated, “While our criminal justice system is far from perfect, the guarantees of both the Pennsylvania and U.S. Constitutions are intended to mitigate the mighty power of the state when a person is accused of a crime. Writing Marsy’s Law into Pennsylvania’s Constitution will further empower the state at the expense of the liberty of the person who is accused.”
As of 2019, 12 states had passed a ballot measure for Marsy’s Law. The first was in California in 2008. Between 2008 and 2018, voters had approved Marsy’s Law in Illinois (2014), Montana (2016), North Dakota (2016), South Dakota (2016), Ohio (2017), Florida (2018), Georgia (2018), Kentucky (2018), Nevada (2018), North Carolina (2018), and Oklahoma (2018). Wisconsin is scheduled to vote on Marsy’s Law on April 7, 2020. Marsy’s Law is named after Henry Nicholas’ sister, who was murdered in 1983.
Ballotpedia identified $102.26 million in total contributions to the support campaigns for the 12 Marsy’s Law ballot measures that were on ballots between 2008 and 2018. Henry Nicholas, the co-founder of Broadcom Corp., and the organization Marsy’s Law for All provided 97 percent—about 99.3 million—of the total contributions. Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania registered as a lobbyist in Pennsylvania, spending $848,960 between December 11, 2017, and March 31, 2019. The organization could register as a political action committee to support the constitutional amendment at the election.
The Pennsylvania Marsy’s Law is the 21st ballot measure certified for an election in 2019. Since 2009, an average of 30 ballot measures appeared on statewide ballots during odd-numbered years.
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