Ryan Byrne

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

Signatures filed for North Slope oil tax initiative in Alaska

The campaign Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share filed signatures for a ballot initiative to increases taxes on North Slope oil production fields. The taxes would apply to North Slope fields that have a lifetime output of at least 400 million barrels of oil and had a daily output of at least 40,000 barrels during the prior year. As of 2020, three oil production fields—Alpine, Kuparuk, and Prudhoe Bay—met those criteria. The ballot initiative would tax oil production using an alternative gross minimum tax or an additional production tax, whichever is greater for each month and each field.

On January 17, 2020, the campaign filed 44,624 signatures with election officials. At least 28,501 (63.9 percent) of the submitted signatures need to be valid. Robin Brena, chairperson of Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share, said the campaign had collected enough signatures in 35 state House districts to meet the state’s distribution requirement of 30 House districts. As the ballot initiative is indirect, certification would first send the proposal to the Alaska State Legislature, which would have the chance to approve the proposal outright. Otherwise, the ballot initiative would go before voters at the election on August 18, 2020, or November 3, 2020, depending on when the legislature adjourns this year’s regular session.

The ballot initiative has divided former oil officials who worked under former Gov. Bill Walker (I). Robin Brena, who served as chairperson of Walker’s Transition Subcommittee on Oil and Gas, is leading Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share. Chantal Walsh, a petroleum engineer and former Oil and Gas Division Director for Walker, is leading the opposition campaign OneAlaska. The Alaska Oil and Gas Association, as well as ConocoPhillips Alaska and ExxonMobil, are backing the opposition campaign.

Alaska voters last decided an oil-related ballot measure in August 2014. The measure, which sought to overturn legislation that expanded tax credits to oil companies and made the oil production tax a flat, rather than graduated, rate. The campaign that sought to overturn the legislation raised $488,09, most of which came from businessman BJ Gottstein, and the campaign to uphold the legislation raised $14.22 million, including $3.6 million from BP, $3.6 million from ExxonMobil, and $2.5 million from ConocoPhillips Alaska.

Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share is the second campaign to file signatures for a ballot initiative this cycle. On January 9, 2020, the campaign Alaskans for Better Elections filed 41,068 signatures for a ballot initiative to replace partisan primaries with open top-four primaries and use ranked-choice voting in general elections. The final deadline to file signatures for Alaska ballot initiatives ahead of the 2020 election is January 21, 2020.

Click here to learn more.

Additional reading:
Alaska 2020 ballot measures
Alaska Top Four Ranked Choice Voting and Campaign Finance Laws Initiative (2020)
2020 ballot measures

NJ voters to decide on expanding property tax deduction to peacetime veterans

On January 13, 2020, the New Jersey State Legislature passed a resolution placing a constitutional amendment related to veterans’ tax payments on the ballot for November 3, 2020. Both chambers of the New Jersey State Legislature passed ACR 253 in unanimous votes, excluding abstaining and absent members.

The ballot measure would expand the state’s $250 property tax deduction for wartime veterans to include peacetime veterans as well. It would also expand the 100 percent property tax exemption for disabled wartime veterans with total and permanent service-related disabilities to disabled peacetime veterans.

The Office of Legislative Services (OLS) estimated that there were 53,274 property-owning peacetime veterans and 440 peacetime veterans living in continuing care retirement communities. According to OLS, an increase in the number of veterans’ deductions for peacetime veterans would cost the state about $13.6 million for tax year 2020. OLS estimated that 4,340 disabled peacetime veterans paid property taxes in 2018. Therefore, the constitutional amendment would have provided $38 million in tax exemptions in 2018.

The ballot measure follows a vote on veterans’ tax payments that was on the ballot in November 2019. On the ballot as Question 1, the constitutional amendment extended the $250 property tax deduction that veterans receive to continuing care retirement centers on behalf of the veterans living there. The ballot measure required the continuing care retirement center to provide the $250 to an eligible veteran, or an eligible surviving spouse of a veteran or soldier, as a payment or credit.

Veterans’ property tax deductions and exemptions were first added to the New Jersey Constitution in 1947. Between 1947 and 2019, voters decided and approved seven ballot measures to amend the constitutional provision governing veterans’ property tax deductions and exemptions.

Since 1995, 32 constitutional amendments have been on the New Jersey ballot. Voters approved 29 (90.6 percent) of them. The veterans’ property tax amendment is the second constitutional amendment referred to the New Jersey ballot for the 2020 general election. The other ballot measure was designed to legalize the possession and use of marijuana for persons age 21 and older and legalize the cultivation, processing, and sale of retail marijuana.

The New Jersey State Legislature has until August 25, 2020 (70 days before the general election) to refer additional measures to the ballot. A 60 percent vote is required in each chamber to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot for November. A simple majority vote, along with the governor’s signature, is needed to refer a bond measure or other statute to the ballot in New Jersey.

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Related pages:
New Jersey 2020 ballot measures
2020 ballot measures
New Jersey elections, 2020

Signatures filed for Alaska initiative that would enact ranked-choice voting, top-four primaries, and campaign finance changes

Signatures filed for Alaska initiative that would enact ranked-choice voting, top-four primaries, and campaign finance changes

The campaign Alaskans for Better Elections filed 41,068 signatures on Thursday for a three-pronged ballot initiative to change the state’s election laws. At least 28,501 (69.4 percent) of the signatures submitted need to be valid for the ballot initiative to be certified. Alaska also has a signature distribution requirement, which requires that signatures equal to 7 percent of the vote in the last general election must be collected in each of 30 (of 40) Alaska House of Representatives districts.

Changes to Alaska’s election policies proposed by the initiative include

requiring persons and entities that make contributions that were themselves derived from donations, contributions, dues, or gifts to disclose the _true sources_ of the contributions;
replacing partisan primaries with open top-four primaries for state executive, state legislative, and congressional; and
establishing ranked-choice voting for general elections, in which voters would rank the four candidates that succeeded from the primaries.

Currently, no states utilize a top-four primary for state or federal elections, and one state—Maine—uses ranked-choice voting for some state and federal elections. Top-four primaries are similar to top-two, which are used in California and Washington. Both move candidates through the primary to the general regardless of party affiliation. Instead of the top-two vote-getters moving to the general election, the ballot initiative would move the top-four vote-getters to the general election. Under the ballot initiative, voters would use ranked-choice voting to rank the four candidates in the general election.

Former Rep. Jason Grenn (I-22) is chairperson of Alaskans for Better Elections. Bruce Botelho (D), the former mayor of Anchorage and Bonnie Jack (R) are co-chairs of the campaign. Through January 5, 2020, the campaign had reported $757,411, with $600,000 from Unite America and $100,000 from Action Now Initiative. Both organizations have supported ranked-choice voting initiatives in the past. Support was also received from American Promise, FairVote, and Represent.Us.

As the ballot initiative is indirect, certification would first send the proposal to the Alaska State Legislature, which would have the chance to approve the proposal or one deemed to be equivalent outright. Otherwise, the ballot initiative would go before voters at the election on August 18, 2020, or November 3, 2020, depending on what the legislature adjourns this year’s regular session.

The ballot initiative is also in the midst of a legal challenge. Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer (R), who is responsible for approving initiatives for signature gathering, originally rejected the proposal. Based on a report by Attorney General Kevin Clarkson (R), Meyer said that the initiative violated the single-subject rule. Alaskans for Better Elections asked the state Superior Court to override Meyer, which it did on October 28, 2019. The judge ruled that the ballot initiative covers a single subject: election reform. Defendants (Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer and the Division of Elections) appealed the ruling to the Alaska Supreme Court, which would have final jurisdiction over the issue.

Voters in Florida will decide a top-two primaries initiative, titled Amendment 3, in 2020. In Massachusetts, the campaign behind an indirect ranked-choice voting initiative submitted enough signatures to put the measure before the legislature, and it could also be on the ballot in the fall.

Click here to learn more.

Related pages:
Unite America 
Ranked-choice voting
Top-four primary

Signatures filed for indirect initiative to ban abortion procedure in Michigan


On December 23, 2019, the campaign Michigan Values Life filed 379,418 signatures for a ballot initiative to ban an abortion procedure. The ballot initiative defines the procedure as dismemberment abortion, which is also known as dilation and evacuation abortion.

The ballot initiative would define dismemberment abortion as an abortion which uses an instrument, device, or object to “dismember a living fetus by disarticulating limbs or decapitating the head from the fetal torso or removing the dismembered fetal body parts from the uterus regardless of whether the fetal body parts are removed by the same instrument, device, or object or by suction or other means.”

At least 340,047 (89.6 percent) of the submitted signatures need to be valid. As an indirect initiative, the proposal would first go to the Michigan State Legislature if enough signatures are verified. The legislature would have 40 days to pass the initiative. The governor’s signature is not needed on an indirect initiative passed by the legislature. Currently, Republicans control both legislative houses, while a Democrat, Gretchen Whitmer, is the governor. House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-107) said that he expected the legislature to pass the ballot initiative.

If enough signatures are verified and the indirect initiative is not passed by the legislature, the initiative would appear on the ballot for November 3, 2020. Speaking about the scenario of the initiative going to the ballot, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) said, “I will actively campaign against adoption.”

According to Bridge Magazine, dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortions are the most common type of second-trimester abortion. Mississippi and West Virginia have active bans on D&E abortions. Courts have struck down bans in several other states.

As of December 2019, one abortion-related ballot measure has qualified for the 2020 ballot. In Louisiana, voters will decide a constitutional amendment stating that “nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” Signatures are also being collected for a 22-week abortion ban ballot initiative in Colorado. In Michigan, a campaign for a second ballot initiative that would restrict abortions when a fetal heartbeat is present is also collecting signatures. The latest that signatures can be filed for an indirect initiative in Michigan is May 27, 2020.

Click here to learn more.

Related pages:
Michigan 2020 ballot measures
Michigan Fetal Heartbeat Abortion Ban Initiative (2020)
Abortion regulations by state

Wisconsin’s April 7th Marsy’s Law ballot measure challenged in court

On December 18, 2019, the Wisconsin Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization, filed litigation in the Dane County Circuit Court that challenges the Marsy’s Law Amendment, which is on the ballot for April 7, 2020. Marsy’s Law was designed as a type of constitutional bill of rights for crime victims.

As of 2019, 13 states had passed ballot measures for Marsy’s Law. Courts have struck down Marsy’s Law in Montana and Kentucky. In Montana, the constitutional amendment was struck down as violating the state’s single-subject and separate-vote requirements. In Kentucky, a judge ruled that the ballot question didn’t fully and fairly inform the electorate. In Pennsylvania, where a majority of electors voted for Marsy’s Law on November 5, 2019, an ongoing lawsuit contends that the constitutional amendment violated the state’s single-subject requirement.

Henry Nicholas, the co-founder of Broadcom Corp., established Marsy’s Law for All in 2009 to advocate for constitutional amendments. In Wisconsin, the state legislature passed Marsy’s Law in 2017 and 2019 to place the amendment on the ballot. In 2019, most legislative Republicans (77 of 82) supported the resolution placing Marsy’s Law on the ballot. Two-thirds of legislative Democrats (32 of 50) supported the resolution.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit stated that the ballot question did not accurately and completely describe the constitutional amendment. Craig Johnson, board president of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative, said, “Voters are being asked to vote on a single sentence that doesn’t remotely begin to describe what Marsy’s Law is and what it does. It may sound reasonable, but the question masks a proposed amendment twice the length of the U.S. Bill of Rights.” The Wisconsin Justice Initiative asked the court to strike Marsy’s Law from the ballot or require the ballot question to be rewritten.

The ballot question is: “Shall section 9m of article I of the constitution, which gives certain rights to crime victims, be amended to give crime victims additional rights, to require that the rights of crime victims be protected with equal force to the protections afforded the accused while leaving the federal constitutional rights of the accused intact, and to allow crime victims to enforce their rights in court?”

Teri Jendusa-Nicolai, chairperson of Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin, responded to the lawsuit, saying, “This to me is a last-ditch effort to take away the rights of crime victims.” Jendusa-Nicolai added, “I do believe in the intelligence of the voters of Wisconsin, that they do understand what they are getting into and what they are voting for. … This has passed (the) Legislature twice. It has gone through many rigorous hearings, many rewordings and revisions, something that’s been worked on for quite some time.”

The case could eventually be appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which would have final jurisdiction.

Click here to learn more.

Additional reading:
Marsy’s Law crime victim rights
Marsy’s Law for All
Wisconsin 2020 ballot measures
2020 ballot measures 

NJ voters will decide a constitutional amendment to legalization marijuana at the 2020 general election

On December 16, the New Jersey State Legislature passed a resolution placing a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana on the ballot for November 3, 2020. New Jersey would be the 12th state and the first Mid-Atlantic state to legalize marijuana.

Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on marijuana legalization in the 2017 gubernatorial election. When Murphy was elected, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3) said his goal was to get a marijuana legalization law passed within 100 days of Murphy’s term. However, the state legislature did not pass legislation to legalize marijuana in 2018 or 2019. On May 15, 2019, Sweeney stated there were not enough votes to pass marijuana legalization. “There’s no sense dragging this out,” he said. On November 18, 2019, Sweeney and Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-22) announced a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. Gov. Murphy said, “… I have faith that the people of New Jersey will put us on the right side of history when they vote next November.”

In New Jersey, there are two avenues for the state Legislature to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot. First, the legislature can refer an amendment to the ballot through a 60 percent vote of both chambers during one legislative session. Second, the legislature can refer an amendment through a simple majority vote (50%+1) in each legislative chamber during two successive legislative sessions.

Legislators took the first path, with 60 percent of legislators in each chamber approving the resolution. In the state Senate, the vote was 24-16. In the state Assembly, the vote was 49-24. The vote made the New Jersey State Legislature the first in the country to ask voters to legalize recreational marijuana. All other marijuana legalization measures were put on the ballot through signature petition drives, a process not available in New Jersey. State legislatures in Illinois and Vermont legalized marijuana without ballot measures.

The constitutional amendment would legalize the recreational use of marijuana, also known as cannabis, for persons age 21 and older. Marijuana would be subject to the state sales tax (6.625 percent), but additional state excise taxes on marijuana sales would be prohibited. The ballot measure would authorize the legislature to allow local governments to enact an additional 2 percent excise tax on marijuana sales. The state Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) would be responsible for regulating the cultivation, processing, and sale of marijuana. The ballot measure would not provide additional specifics; rather, the legislature and CRC would need to enact additional laws and regulations.

While the New Jersey constitutional amendment is the first legalization measure to make the 2020 ballot, it may not be the last. There could be marijuana legalization ballot measures in several states, including Arizona and South Dakota. The measure in Arizona would be a second attempt for legalization proponents, as an initiative was defeated in 2016. Signatures were submitted for a South Dakota ballot initiative at the beginning of November and are in the process of being verified.

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Signatures filed for ballot initiative to expand local governments’ rent control powers in California

Californians could vote on a ballot initiative to expand the power of local governments to enact rent control in 2020. The campaign behind the ballot initiative filed around 1 million signatures on December 5, 2019. At least 623,212 signatures need to be valid for the measure to appear on the ballot.
Counties will first conduct a random sample of signatures to determine whether enough valid signatures were filed. If the random sample projects that more than 685,534 signatures, which is 110 percent of the required minimum, are valid, then the measure qualifies for the ballot. If the projection is between 95 percent and 110 percent of the requirement, a check of each signature will be conducted. If the projection is less than 95 percent of the requirement, the initiative fails to make the ballot.
In 2018, 59 percent of voters rejected Proposition 10, which would have allowed local governments to adopt rent control on any type of rental housing. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), which is headed by Michael Weinstein, co-sponsored Proposition 10 and an AHF division called Housing Is A Human Right is sponsoring the campaign in support of the 2020 ballot initiative. Rand Martin, a lobbyist for AHF, said, “The one lesson we learned from Proposition 10 is that the voters were not interested in a wholesale repeal of Costa Hawkins. But the other message we got in polling and focus groups is that people believe there are excesses to Costa Hawkins and there needs to be reforms.” Tom Bannon, CEO of the California Apartment Association, opposed Proposition 10 in 2018. He said, “Voters overwhelming rejected the measure the last time it was on the ballot. Once we educate voters about Weinstein’s latest housing-freeze measure, it’s bound to fail just as miserably as Prop. 10.”
Unlike Proposition 10, the new proposal was designed to exempt some units from rent control. Exemptions would be made for (a) units first occupied within the last 15 years and (b) residential units owned by landlords who own no more than two properties. The new initiative would also require that local governments allow landlords to increase rental rates by 15 percent during the first three years following a vacancy.
The campaigns surrounding Proposition 10 raised a combined $96.66 million. Opponents of Proposition 10 raised $71.37 million, with the largest contribution ($8 million) coming from the California Association of Realtors. Supporters raised $25.30 million. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation provided 89.0 percent of the campaign’s funds. As of the most recent deadline on September 30, 2019, the campaign behind the new initiative has raised $2.26 million, which all came from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
If the ballot initiative qualifies for the 2020 ballot, it will be the fourth citizen-initiated measure to do so. The deadline for signatures to be verified for ballot initiatives is June 25, 2020. A total of 44 initiatives have been proposed for the California ballot this election cycle.
Click here to learn more.
Additional reading:

Judge blocks Washington Initiative 976 from taking effect on Dec. 5

At the election on November 5, Washington Initiative 976 was approved, receiving 53 percent of the vote. Initiative 976 was designed to limit annual license fees for vehicles to $30, repeal Sound Transit’s authorization to impose motor vehicle excise taxes, and reduce other vehicle taxes and fees. Tim Eyman proposed Initiative 976, which was his 17th initiative to appear on a statewide ballot.
On November 13, 2019, nine plaintiffs, including the governments of Seattle and King County, filed a legal complaint in the King County Superior Court to declare that Initiative 976 violated the Washington Constitution. The complaint named the State of Washington as the defendant. Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) was tasked with defending the state. The complaint read, “As with prior initiatives by the same sponsor, I-976 is a poorly drafted hodge-podge that violates multiple provisions of the Constitution.” The complaint stated that Initiative 976 violated the single-subject rule, the separate subject-in-title requirement, the requirement to disclose the repeal of statutes, and other constitutional provisions.
On November 26, 2019, Judge Marshall Ferguson blocked Initiative 976 from taking effect on December 5, pending the conclusion of the case. Judge Ferguson said that plaintiffs possessed “a clear legal and equitable right because they are likely to prevail on the merits of their constitutional challenge… specifically the ‘subject-in-title’ requirement.” The subject-in-title requirement states that “No bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.” Plaintiffs contended, “… the [I-976] title misleadingly suggests that voters will retain the authority to approve vehicle charges, but several provisions of I-976 then repeal statutes that provide for voter-approved charges.”
Judge Ferguson also said, “If the collection of vehicle license fees and taxes stop on December 5, 2019, there will be no way to retroactively collect those revenues if, at the conclusion of this case, the Court concludes that I-976 is unconstitutional and permanently enjoins its enforcement. Conversely, refunds of fees and taxes impacted by I-976 can be issued if the State ultimately prevails in this matter, albeit at some expense to the State.”
Attorney General Ferguson responded to the injunction, “This is not a final judgment, and this case is far from over. We will continue working to defend the will of the voters. This case will ultimately wind up before the State Supreme Court.” Tim Eyman called on people to “join me and refuse to renew your vehicle taxes.” He added, “It is absolutely critical that the people of Washington state, regardless of how they voted, not pay taxes and fees that the voters voted to get rid of.”

Eight former Michigan state legislators sue to overturn 1992 term limits ballot initiative

On November 20, eight former state legislators filed a legal complaint in the U.S. District Court for Western Michigan to invalidate provisions of a ballot initiative that enacted term limits on legislators. The ballot initiative, titled Proposal B, was approved on November 3, 1992, with 58.7 percent of the vote. Proposal B was designed to limit the number of terms that a person could be elected to congressional, state executive, and state legislative offices in Michigan.
Plaintiffs sued to “vindicate their own rights to appear on the ballot, as well as their right to themselves vote for experienced candidates,” according to the complaint. Proposal B, according to the plaintiffs, violated their freedom of association as voters and officials. The complaint states, “[Proposal B] denies voters the opportunity to participate on an equal basis with other voters in the election of their choice of representatives, and denies such voters the ability [to] support an entire class of candidates—experienced legislators.” The former state legislators also contend that Proposal B, as presented to voters in 1992, violated the state’s single-subject rule and had prejudiced ballot language.
Patrick L. Anderson, an economist and principal author of Proposal B, responded to the litigation, saying, “It is disgraceful for people who took an oath to uphold the Michigan constitution, to now go before a federal judge and ask for it to be put aside.”
As of 2019, state legislators are subject to term limits in 15 states. State legislative term limits came through citizen-initiated ballot measures in each state except Louisiana, where the legislature referred a ballot measure to voters.
In Idaho, voters passed a ballot initiative for state legislative term limits, which the state legislature then repealed. In Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming, voters approved ballot measures for state legislative term limits, which state supreme courts struck down as unconstitutional.

Coalition of 18 tribes files ballot initiative to legalize sports betting in California

On November 14, four tribal chairmen filed a ballot initiative to legalize sports betting at American Indian gaming casinos and licensed racetracks in California. The ballot initiative has the support of 18 tribal governments.
The announcement comes nine days after voters in Colorado passed Proposition DD, which authorized sports betting in the state. California would be the third state—after Colorado and Arkansas—to vote on sports betting since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law requiring states to prohibit sports betting on May 14, 2018.
The ballot measure would enact a tax of 10 percent on profits derived from sports betting. The state would be required to distribute 15 percent of the revenue to the California Department of Health and local governments for programs related to problem gambling and mental health. The measure would earmark another 15 percent of revenue for enforcing and implementing gambling laws. The remaining 70 percent would be allocated to the General Fund.
Some of California’s most expensive ballot measures addressed tribal gambling authorizations. Based on available reports on Cal-Access, which provides information on campaign finance from 1999 to present, the most expensive ballot measures in California were 2008’s Propositions 94, 95, 96, and 97—four veto referendums against gaming compacts between tribes and the state government. The political action committees (PACs) were the same for each measure; therefore, the combined total of $154.55 million in contributions was raised for or against four ballot measures.
Proponents of the sports betting ballot initiative will need to collect at least 997,139 valid signatures, with a verification deadline of June 25, 2020. However, the process of verifying signatures can take multiple months. The recommended signature submission deadlines are March 3, 2020, for an initiative requiring a full check of signatures and April 21, 2020, for an initiative requiring verification only of a random sample of signatures. Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) is expected to release ballot language for the initiative on January 21, giving the initiative’s proponents between six and 13 weeks to collect around 1 million signatures.
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