Ryan Byrne

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

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.
Additional reading:

Kentucky Supreme Court rules that the state’s Marsy’s Law (2018) constitutional amendment is invalid

On June 12, 2019, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the description presented to voters for Marsy’s Law, which was on the ballot in 2018, violated the state constitution. Legislators wrote the description, which said: “Are you in favor of providing constitutional rights to victims of crime, including the right to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect, and the right to be informed and to have a voice in the judicial process?” On November 6, 62.8 percent of electors voted for the constitutional amendment. The state Supreme Court’s ruling means that Marsy’s Law, a type of constitutional amendment addressing the rights of crime victims, cannot be added to the Kentucky Constitution.
Chief Justice John D. Minton, Jr. wrote the court’s unanimous opinion. He said that “Section 256 of the Kentucky Constitution requires the General Assembly to submit the full text of a proposed constitutional amendment to the electorate for a vote.” The full text of Marsy’s Law was 555 words long—517 words longer than the description that legislators wrote for the ballot.
The state Supreme Court’s ruling affirms a lower court’s ruling from October 2018, which prohibited the state from certifying election results for Marsy’s Law. Awaiting an order from the state Supreme Court, the outcome of Marsy’s Law was uncertain for 218 days.
Marsy’s Law for Kentucky, which registered as a political issues committee to support Marsy’s Law, responded to the ruling, stating, “We look forward to working with the General Assembly again to put Marsy’s Law back on the ballot for Kentucky voters in 2020 in a form that will pass legal muster as defined by the court.” Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-3), chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also said that he would like the legislature to present the amendment to voters again in 2020. He also criticized the court’s ruling, saying, “It is troubling that in order to reach this conclusion the Supreme Court reversed years of established precedent and inserted an entirely new requirement for amending our state constitution.”
The Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (KACFL) filed the lawsuit to invalidate Marsy’s Law on August 13, 2018. David Ward, who was the KACFL’s president in 2018, said, “Voters have a right to know what they are voting on and the legislature failed to tell them.”
Marsy’s Law describes a set of constitutional protections for crime victims that have been adopted in 11 states, excluding Kentucky. In Montana, which approved Marsy’s Law in 2016, a court struck down the constitutional amendment as violating the state’s separate-vote requirement for initiated amendments. Henry Nicholas, co-founder of Broadcom Corporation, started the organization that backs Marsy’s Law. In Kentucky, Nicholas provided over $5 million to support the campaign.
Marsy’s Law will appear on the ballot in Wisconsin in 2020. The Pennsylvania State Legislature is also considering placing Marsy’s Law on the ballot in 2019. As of June 2019, voters have never rejected a Marsy’s Law ballot measure.

Oregon joins the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, bringing total jurisdictions to 16

On June 12, 2019, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) signed legislation to join the state in the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). Oregon is the 16th jurisdiction to join NPVIC, as well as the fourth state in 2019. The NPVIC is an interstate 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. With Oregon joining the NPVIC, the compact’s members now account for 196 electoral votes.
In the Oregon State Senate, the legislation was passed 17-12. Fifteen Democrats and two Republicans supported the bill, while three Democrats and nine Republicans opposed the bill. In the Oregon House, the legislation was passed 37-22. House Democrats supported the bill, and House Republicans opposed the bill. Oregon is a Democratic trifecta, meaning Democrats control both legislative chambers and the governor’s office.
Gov. Brown’s signature comes 13 days after neighboring Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) vetoed a bill to join his state in the NPVIC. Gov. Sisolak, upon vetoing the bill, stated, “Once effective, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact could diminish the role of smaller states like Nevada in national electoral contests and force Nevada’s electors to side with whoever wins the nationwide popular vote, rather than the candidate Nevadans choose.” Regarding Oregon, Gov. Brown said, “I think it’s really important to be a part of the national conversation regarding the presidential election. I think it will encourage candidates to spend more time in states like ours, speaking directly to our voters.”
Maine could also join the NPVIC in 2019. The Maine House rejected legislation on May 30, 2019, but on June 12, the House voted to reconsider the bill. The Maine Senate had passed the bill on May 14.
Of the 16 jurisdictions to join the NPVIC, 14 of them were Democratic trifectas at the time of enactment. Two—Hawaii and New York—were divided governments. In Hawaii, the Democratic-controlled legislature was able to override Gov. Linda Lingle’s (R) veto in 2008. New York joined NPVIC in 2014, when Democrats controlled the governor’s office and Assembly. Democrats did not control the Senate due to a coalition between the Independent Democratic Conference and Senate Republicans, but Democratic Party members held a three-seat numerical majority. Of the current Democratic trifectas, Maine and Nevada are the only two that have not joined the NPVIC as of June 2019.
Additional reading:

In 2020, Louisiana will vote on ballot measure declaring no state constitutional right to abortion

On June 5, 2019, the Louisiana State Legislature passed a constitutional amendment stating that “nothing in this [Louisiana Constitution] shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” Voters will decide whether to approve or reject the constitutional amendment on November 3, 2020.
The constitutional amendment was approved after Senate Bill 184 (SB 184), which was designed to ban abortion when a fetal heartbeat is present, except in certain medical emergencies. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed SB 184 on May 30, 2019. Gov. Edwards’ office has said that he also supports the constitutional amendment.
According to the Louisiana Pro-Life Amendment Coalition, which is campaigning in support of the ballot measure, the constitutional amendment would ensure that a state court cannot rule that the Louisiana Constitution provides a right to abortion. At least 10 state constitutions provide a right to abortion, according to state courts. The most recent state to join that list is Kansas, where the state Supreme Court ruled on April 26, 2019, that the Kansas Constitution provides a right to abortion. Should the U.S. Supreme Court rule that the U.S. Constitution does not provide a right to abortion, the Kansas Constitution would still provide a right to abortion, per the state Supreme Court’s ruling. In 2018, voters in Alabama and West Virginia approved ballot measures declaring that their state constitutions did not secure or protect a right to abortion. The Kansas State Legislature could refer a constitutional amendment to voters in 2020 to overrule the state court’s decision.
In Louisiana, the constitutional amendment declaring no state constitutional right to abortion received the support of legislative Republicans and divided legislative Democrats. Rep. Katrina Jackson, a Democrat, introduced the constitutional amendment. In the House, Democrats voted 16-20 on the amendment. In the Senate, Democrats voted 8-5 on the amendment. Jackson asked for the constitutional amendment to be placed on the ballot for 2020, rather than October 12, 2019. In Louisiana, state legislative and executive elections are held in odd-numbered years, such as 2019, while federal elections occur in even-numbered years.
The constitutional amendment is the first certified for the ballot in 2020 in Louisiana. As of June 5, the Louisiana State Legislature had passed four constitutional amendments during the 2019 legislative session for the election on October 12. The legislative session is expected to run through June 6, during which time additional amendments could be referred to the 2019 ballot. The legislature will meet again in 2020, when more measures can be added to the 2020 ballot alongside the abortion amendment.

In 2020, Nevada voters will decide a ballot measure to create a declaration of voters’ rights in the state constitution

On November 3, 2020, voters in Nevada will decide on a ballot measure to create a declaration of voters’ rights in the Nevada Constitution. The ballot measure is similar to a declaration passed as statute in 2003.
The ballot measure would provide voters with a constitutional right to receive and cast a ballot that is written in a “format that allows the clear identification of candidates” and “accurately records the voter’s preference in the selection of candidates.”
The measure would provide registered voters with other constitutional rights, including:
  • to have questions about voting procedures answered and have voting procedures posted in a visible location at the polling place;
  • to vote without intimidation, threats, or coercion;
  • to vote during any early-voting period or on election day if the voter is in line at the time polls close;
  • to return a spoiled ballot and receive a replacement ballot;
  • to request assistance in voting if necessary;
  • to a sample ballot “which is accurate, informative and delivered in a timely manner;”
  • to receive instruction on how to use voting equipment;
  • to equal access to the elections system without discrimination, including on the basis of “race, age, disability, military service, employment or overseas residence.”
  • to a “uniform, statewide standard for counting and recounting all votes accurately;” and
  • to have “complaints about elections and election contests resolved fairly, accurately and efficiently.”
In Nevada, a majority vote is required in two successive sessions of the Nevada State Legislature to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot. The constitutional amendment was introduced into the legislature in 2017 and sponsored by 13 legislative Democrats. The 2017 legislative session followed Democrats winning a majority of seats in both legislative chambers at the 2016 general election, which broke Republicans trifecta control of the state government. During the 2019 legislative session, both Democrats and Republicans supported placing the constitutional amendment on the ballot.
As of May 30, 2019, five statewide ballot measures have been certified to appear on the ballot in Nevada for the election on November 3, 2020. The state legislature could refer additional ballot measures before adjournment, which is expected on June 3, 2019. Citizens have until June 16, 2020, to file signatures for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments and veto referendums to appear on the ballot. Across the U.S., 32 ballot measures have been certified in 16 states for 2020.

Illinois State Legislature refers 2020 ballot measure to allow for a graduated state income tax

Since 1970, the Illinois Constitution has required the state personal income tax to be a flat rate. The Illinois State Legislature, with the support of Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), passed legislation on May 27, 2019, to ask voters to repeal the requirement and instead allow for a graduated income tax by constitutional amendment.
Voters will decide the ballot measure on November 3, 2020. In Illinois, a ballot measure amending the state constitution requires either a 60 percent vote of those voting on the ballot measure or a simple majority vote of those voting in the election.
Gov. Pritzker and Democrats have named the proposal the Fair Tax, while Ideas Illinois, an organization opposed to the ballot measure, has called the proposal the Unfair Jobs Tax.
The ballot measure required 60 percent supermajorities in the state’s legislative chambers. Democrats control 68 percent (40 of 59) Senate seats and 63 percent (74 of 118) House seats, and were able to pass the constitutional amendment without Republican support. From 2016 to 2018, Democrats held majorities in the House and Senate but not enough seats to pass a constitutional amendment along partisan lines.
The ballot measure itself would not enact a graduated income tax, just allow for one. For income earned in 2018, the personal income tax in Illinois was a flat rate of 4.95 percent. The Illinois State Senate passed Senate Bill 687 (SB 687) on May 1, 2019, which would go into effect only if voters approve the constitutional amendment in 2020. SB 687 would change the state’s income tax from a flat rate to six graduated rates—ranging from 4.75 to 7.99 percent—beginning on January 1, 2021. The state House had not passed SB 687 as of May 27, 2019.
Ballotpedia has not identified political action committees (PACs) supporting or opposing the ballot measure; however, at least two 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations were airing advertisements regarding the ballot measure. Think Big Illinois supported the legislation to place the constitutional amendment on the ballot. Quentin Fulks, a former campaign staffer for Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s (D) 2018 gubernatorial campaign is heading Think Big Illinois. Gov. Pritzker has donated to the organization but had no other involvement, according to Think Big Illinois spokesperson Lara Sisselman. Ideas Illinois opposed the legislation for the constitutional amendment. The Coalition for Jobs, Growth and Prosperity, which formed in 2004, organized Ideas Illinois. Greg Baise, former president of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, is leading the group.
House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22) said, “Middle-class families bear too much of the burden under the current tax system, and a Fair Tax will enable us to make the wealthy pay their fair share to balance the budget and invest in critical resources like education and health care — all while providing relief for 97% of taxpayers.” House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-82) said his party “will continue to stand united against the majority part’s insatiable desire for higher taxes that has caused businesses and families to flee the state in droves.”
The ballot measure to allow for a graduated income tax will be the 23rd constitutional amendment that voters in Illinois have decided since adopting their current constitution in 1970. Fourteen of the 22 constitutional amendments were approved at the ballot box, while eight of them were rejected.