Ryan Byrne

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

Lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania to invalidate the Marsy’s Law ballot measure on the state’s November ballot

In November, Pennsylvania will be the 13th state to vote on Marsy’s Law, an amendment to add crime victims’ rights to the state constitution. The ballot measure would create 15 constitutional rights for crime victims.
Lorraine Haw, along with the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania (LWV), filed litigation to invalidate the ballot measure on October 10, 2019. The lawsuit argues that the measure violates the separate-vote requirement for constitutional amendments. Article XI of the Pennsylvania Constitution reads, “When two or more amendments shall be submitted they shall be voted upon separately.” The legal complaint said Haw, a registered voter of Pennsylvania, “cannot vote for the parts of the amendment she agrees with without voting for other things she disagrees with,” which violates her rights. Acting Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar (D) was named as the defendant.
Boockvar filed her response to the complaint on October 16, 2019. Boockvar said, “The Crime Victims’ Rights Amendment pertains to a single subject matter — securing victims’ rights in the criminal case in which they suffered direct harm. Every single subpart of the amendment advances this one goal.” The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has scheduled a hearing for October 23, 2019, but a ruling could be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Courts have struck down Marsy’s Law in Kentucky and Montana. In Kentucky, the state Supreme Court ruled on June 12, 2019, that the ballot language did not provide enough information to communicate the amendment’s substance to voters. On November 1, 2017, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the Marsy’s Law ballot measure violated the state’s separate-vote requirement.
The Pennsylvania State Legislature placed Marsy’s Law on the ballot after approving the proposal during two consecutive legislation sessions (2018 and 2019). The proposal received unanimous support in 2018. In 2019, the proposal received unanimous support in the state Senate, while seven Democrats and one Republican voted against the proposal in the 203-member state House. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced his support for Marsy’s Law in April 2018, saying, “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.”
The ACLU of Pennsylvania is opposed to Marsy’s Law. Andy Hoover, communications director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said, “Contrast these [defendants’ rights] with victims’ rights, which arise out of a dispute between two private people. One person’s rights against another person are fundamentally different than a person’s rights against the awesome power of the government. This is why our Constitution, which lays out the restrictions on government power, includes defendants’ rights and why victims’ rights are primarily contained in statute.”
Through September 16, 2019, the campaign Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania has received $6 million from the national organization Marsy’s Law for All Foundation. Henry Nicholas, co-founder of Broadcom Corp, founded Marsy’s Law for All Foundation. Marsy’s Law is named after Nicholas’ sister, who was murdered in 1983.

Maine will hold a statewide vote on a ballot measure addressing vaccination requirements at presidential primary

On October 17, 2019, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced that the campaign Mainers for Health and Parental Rights filed enough signatures for a veto referendum on whether religious and philosophical exemptions from vaccination requirements should be eliminated. The referendum will be on the ballot for the election on March 3, 2020, which will also feature the presidential primary.
Mainers for Health and Parental Rights needed to gather 63,067 valid signatures. The campaign filed 95,871 raw signatures, and Dunlap said that 79,056 signatures were valid. The campaign had raised $176,129 through September 30, 2019, and spent $154,982.
The veto referendum seeks to repeal Legislative Document 798 (2019), which would eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions from vaccination requirements for students to attend schools and colleges and employees of healthcare facilities. The elimination of religious and philosophical exemptions would go into effect on September 1, 2021. LD 798 would allow students with individualized education plans (IEPs) and who had a religious or philosophical exemption before September 1, 2021, to continue receiving the exemption while in school with a valid statement from a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant.
Maine was the fourth state to prohibit non-medical exemptions from vaccination for students to attend schools. LD 798, however, is now suspended until voters decide the bill’s fate. New York passed a similar law a few weeks after Maine to eliminate non-medical exemptions for students. The other three states are West Virginia, Mississippi, and California.
It’s been 97 years since voters across a state decided a vaccination-related ballot measure. In 1922, Washington voters repealed a law to remove vaccination requirements for school attendance. California, along with Maine, could also vote on vaccination requirements in 2020. In California, veto referendums were filed to overturn laws to create a system for reviewing and rejecting medical exemptions from vaccination.
The veto referendum is the first ballot measure certified in Maine for 2020. The deadline to file signatures for initiatives to appear on the November 2020 ballot is February 2. The legislature can also refer statutes, such as bond issues, and constitutional amendments to the ballot during the 2020 legislative session. Between 1996 and 2018, an average of six measures appeared on even-year statewide ballots in Maine.
Maine voters have decided 30 statewide veto referendums. In 18 cases, voters repealed the targeted legislation. In 12 cases, voters upheld the targeted legislation.

Californians to vote on $15 billion school and college facilities bond in March

On March 3, 2020, Californians will vote on a $15 billion bond proposition for school and college facilities. The bond measure is set to appear alongside primaries for president, U.S. House, and the state legislature.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation that placed the bond measure on the ballot on Oct. 7. Newsom said, “We are back asking the voters yet again to do what they historically have always done, and that is to embrace our children and embrace their fate and future and do more to do justice to the cause of public education in the state of California.” The legislation received bipartisan support in the California State Legislature, with support from Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans.
Of the $15 billion in bonds, $9 billion would be for preschool and K-12 facilities, $2 billion would be for community college facilities, $2 billion would be for University of California facilities, and $2 billion would be for California State University facilities. Around 65 percent of the $9 billion for preschool and K-12 facilities would be allocated to modernization projects, while 35 percent would be allocated to construction projects. The state Department of General Services would consider several variables in determining which modernization and construction applications to prioritize, including projects to address earthquake risks; lead remediation; overcrowding; schools with low tax bases; and schools with higher percentages of English learners, students eligible for free or reduced-price meals, and foster youth. The state would use the bond revenue to provide matching funds for school districts that cover 60 to 65 percent of modernization costs and 50 to 55 percent of construction costs.
The ballot measure would be the largest school-related bond in the state’s history and tie for the second largest in general. The largest was Proposition 1B (2006), which provided $19.9 billion for transportation infrastructure, and the second-largest was Proposition 57 (2004), which provided $15 billion to reduce the state’s deficit. Californians last voted on a school facilities bond measure in 2016, which passed with 55 percent of the vote. The bond measure, titled Proposition 51, issued $7 billion for K-12 education facilities and $2 billion for colleges. Between 1998 and 2019, voters approved five bond measures for school facilities—Proposition 1A (1998), Proposition 47 (2002), Proposition 55 (2004), Proposition 1D (2006), and Proposition 51 (2016).
The California State Legislature will consider adding additional ballot measures, including bonds, to the ballot for the general election on November 3, 2020, when legislators reconvene in 2020. Campaigns also have until June 25, 2020, to have signatures verified for citizen-initiated ballot measures to appear on the general election ballot.

This decade featured the lowest number of California ballot propositions in the state’s history of direct democracy

Between 2010 and 2019, there were 69 statewide ballot measures in California, which means this decade featured the smallest number of measures since voters adopted the initiative process in 1911. The number of citizen-initiated measures, however, was 51—the third-highest number per decade of the previous 11 decades. Therefore, the decrease in measures on the ballot is due to the state legislature passing fewer constitutional amendments, referred statutes, and general obligation bonds. After peaking at 142 ballot measures in the 1970s, the number of ballot measures decreased each decade in California until reaching 69 in the 2010s. The average decade featured 116 ballot propositions, of which 39 were citizen-initiated.
In 1912, the first citizen-initiated measures were on the ballot in California. Since 1912, there have been 1,271 measures put before California voters. Of those 1,271 measures, 428—34 percent—were put on the ballot through citizen petitions; either through the initiative process or the veto referendum process.
Overall, the approval rate for citizen initiatives from 1912 through 2019 was 36 percent. The approval rate for all ballot measures, including citizen-initiated measures and legislative referrals, was 57 percent.
The next two elections, 2020 and 2022, will require the largest number of signatures for citizen-initiated measures in the state’s history. To get an initiated constitutional amendment on the ballot, 997,139 valid signatures are required. To get an initiated statute or veto referendum on the ballot, 623,212 valid signatures are required. Due to turnout at California’s 2018 gubernatorial election, which determines the number of signatures required for the two successive general elections, signature requirements increased by 70.3 percent. The percentage increase was the second-largest in the state’s 106 years of statewide direct democracy. The largest increase was 140.3 percent and resulted from turnout in the 1914 general election, which was the first gubernatorial election that followed women gaining the right to vote in California.
Additional reading:

Californians could vote on ballot initiative expanding consumer information law

Californians could vote on expanding the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and creating an agency to oversee the act’s implementation and enforcement in 2020. Proponents will have 180 days to collect at least 623,212 valid signatures after Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) writes the petition language, which is expected December 2, 2019. The recommended dates to file signatures in order for them to be verified before the deadline on June 25, 2020, is between March 3 and April 21.
Alastair Mactaggart, a San Francisco-based real estate developer, filed the ballot initiative. He was the proponent of a ballot initiative that qualified for the ballot in 2018 but was withdrawn after negotiations with the California State Legislature, which passed a revised version of the initiative called the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA). Mactaggart contributed $3 million to the initiative’s campaign, which spent $1.63 million to collect signatures ($4.46 per required signature).
With the ballot initiative for the election on November 3, 2020, Mactaggart said his intention “is to go to the ballot.” He described the CCPA of 2018 as a “great baseline. But I think there are additional rights that Californians deserve.” Unlike the CCPA, which the legislature passed, the ballot initiative couldn’t be amended without the approval of voters at the ballot box due to the state constitution’s limits on legislative alteration. “The only thing I want to make sure is they can’t undo the act,” said Mactaggart, “There is basically unlimited resources on one side of the fight. If you don’t do anything, they will win eventually.” Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-18) was involved in the negotiations with Mactaggart that resulted in the CCPA of 2018. Sen. Hertzberg said that “[t]here is no reason to negotiate” this time, adding, “What [Mactaggart] is doing is the right thing.”
Of the several changes that the proposal would make, the 2020 ballot initiative would (a) require that businesses provide consumers with the ability to opt-out of having their sensitive personal information, as defined in law, used or disclosed for advertising or marketing; (b) require that businesses obtain permission before collecting data from consumers younger than 16; (c) require that businesses obtain permission from a parent or guardian before collecting data from consumers younger than 13; (d) require that businesses disclose information regarding profiling algorithms used to determine a consumer’s eligibility for financial or lending services, housing, insurance, and other services; and (e) require that businesses collecting personal information for political purposes disclose the name of the candidates and committees for which the consumer’s information was used.
As of September 2019, a campaign had not formed to oppose the ballot initiative. In 2018, opponents of the Mactaggart-backed initiative raised $2.15 million before the initiative was withdrawn. Companies that provided funds to the opposition committee included Facebook, Google, Amazon, Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and Uber. The opposition campaign had argued that the initiative was “unworkable, requiring the internet and businesses in California to operate differently than the rest of the world — limiting our choices, hurting our businesses, and cutting our connection to the global economy.”
California is one of two states (Arizona being the other) that require voter approval for changes to or the repeal of citizen-initiated state statutes, thereby preventing legislative alteration of citizen initiatives. Eleven of the 21 states that feature the initiated state statute power have no restrictions on how soon or with what majority state legislators can repeal or amend initiated statutes. The other states restrict how soon the legislature can amend or repeal an initiative, require a supermajority vote of legislators, or a combination of the two.

Signatures filed for March 2020 referendum to repeal Maine’s new law eliminating religious and philosophical vaccine exemptions

On September 18, 2019, signatures were filed for a veto referendum to repeal Maine Legislative Document 798 (2019). LD 798 would eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions from vaccination requirements for students to attend schools and colleges and employees of healthcare facilities. The campaign Mainers for Health and Parental Rights led the signature drive, reporting that local registrars verified 77,000 signatures of the 92,000 collected. The next step is for Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap to review the petitions and signatures within 30 days. A total of 63,067 valid signatures are required for the veto referendum to appear on the ballot on March 3, 2020.
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.
Maine was the fourth state to prohibit non-medical exemptions from vaccination for students to attend schools. LD 798, however, is now suspended until voters decide the issue unless Secretary Dunlap finds that not enough signatures are valid. New York passed a similar law a few weeks after Maine to eliminate non-medical exemptions for students. The other three states are West Virginia, Mississippi, and California.
It’s been 97 years since voters across a state decided a vaccination-related ballot measure. In 1922, Washington voters repealed a law to remove vaccination requirements for school attendance. California, along with Maine, could also vote on vaccination requirements in 2020. In California, veto referendums were filed to overturn laws to create a system for reviewing and rejecting medical exemptions from vaccination.
The veto referendum to repeal LD 798 was one of 12 proposed after the 2019 regular legislative session adjourned on June 20, 2019. The proponents of the remaining 11 veto referendums did not file signatures before the deadline. 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.

Referendums filed to overturn California’s new laws to regulate vaccine medical exemptions

On September 11, veto referendums were filed against Senate Bill 276 and Senate Bill 714 in California. Both of the bills address the use of medical exemptions from vaccination schedules for school students. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed the bills on September 9.
Proponents of the veto referendums will need to collect 623,212 valid signatures within 90 days of the governor’s signature, which means signatures are due on December 8, 2019. Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) is expected to release ballot language for the veto referendums on September 23. If enough signatures are collected for the referendums, the laws would be on hold until voters decide whether to uphold or repeal them at the election on November 3, 2020.
SB 276 and SB 714 were designed to create a process for the California Department of Public Health to review medical exemption forms for school attendance and allow a trained immunization department staff member (who must be a physician, surgeon, or registered nurse) to revoke medical exemptions that do not meet CDC, ACIP, or AAP criteria. The bills also include a process to appeal decisions to revoke exemptions, prohibit doctors who the department considers to be contributing to a public health crisis from writing medical exemptions, establish the information that must appear on medical exemption forms, and create a system to monitor immunization levels in schools and institutions and patterns of high exemption form submissions by physicians. SB 714 was written to amend SB 276 after Gov. Newsom requested several changes to the original bill, including a longer grace period for students with medical exemptions that were issued before January 1, 2020.
The three individuals who filed the veto referendums—Denise Aguilar, Heidi Munoz Gleisner, and Tara Thornton—were active in protesting the vaccination bills in August and September, according to The Sacramento Bee. Aguilar described the protests as “just parents who are getting a little bit fed up with the bills that are being passed.” She added, “To have our health in bureaucrats’ hands, that’s the complete tyranny of the government.” Senator Richard Pan (D-6), who authored the laws, responded to the referendums, saying, “What they haven’t demonstrated through the legislative process is a compelling argument based on science and facts and when they go to the public they will need that. Pounding on doors and walls won’t be any more compelling to the public as it was to the Legislature.”
After Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed SB 277, which eliminated personal belief and religious exemptions from vaccination requirements, former Rep. Tim Donnelly (R-33) filed a veto referendum to overturn the law. On October 7, Donnelly said the campaign lacked financial contributions and signatures, which led to the veto referendum failing to make the ballot. While the signature requirement in 2015 was 365,880, the signature requirement in 2019 is a quarter-million higher at 623,212.
Californian’s have voted on 48 veto referendums since the state’s first in 1912. Voters upheld the targeted legislation in 20 veto referendum measures and repealed it in 28. Nationwide, between 1906 and 2018, 521 veto referendums appeared on the ballot in 23 states. Voters repealed 340 (65.3 percent) of the targeted laws and upheld 181 (34.7 percent). California has had the third most veto referendum measures certified for the ballot behind North Dakota (75) and Oregon (68).

CA Supreme Court to decide whether a state law requiring presidential candidates to file income tax returns violates a 1972 ballot measure

Forty-seven years ago, voters in California approved Proposition 4, a constitutional amendment declaring that presidential primary candidates who appear on the ballot are “those found by the Secretary of State to be recognized candidates throughout the nation or throughout California for the office of the President of the United States, and those whose names placed on the ballot by petition.” Proponents of the 1972 ballot measure argued, “In the last presidential primary election, California voters were denied the opportunity of voting for or against either of the men who eventually become the presidential nominees” due to the parties using what proponents called a favorite son device.
Jumping forward to 2019, and the wording of Proposition 4 is receiving renewed attention after Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed Senate Bill 27 (SB 27) into law. SB 27 was designed to require presidential and gubernatorial candidates to file copies of their last five federal income tax returns in order to appear on the primary election ballot.
Several entities and individuals, including President Donald Trump (R), filed litigation in federal courts to declare SB 27 in violation of the U.S. Constitution. On August 6, 2019, the California Republican Party and the party’s leader, Jessica Millan Patterson, asked the state’s highest court, the California Supreme Court, to decide whether SB 27 violated the California Constitution, including Proposition 4.
The legal complaint said Proposition 4 was intended to “guarantee California voters the right to consider all of the candidates seeking election to the highest office in the land,” and that SB 27 prohibited Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) “from exercising his constitutionally delegated duty to place the name of all nationally recognized presidential candidates.”
Attorneys for the defendant, Secretary of State Padilla, responded that Proposition 4 “imposes no mandatory duty on the secretary of state, but rather provides that the secretary will ‘find’ candidates that are ‘recognized … throughout the nation’ and include them on California primary ballots.”
On August 21, 2019, the California Supreme Court voted to take up the case, with written arguments due on September 11. The court has asked the plaintiffs (California GOP and Patterson) and the defendant (Padilla) to address the legislative history of Proposition 4 and related laws and the guidelines that the secretary of state has employed to assess who is a recognized candidate under Proposition 4.

We’re entering California’s most active ballot initiative filing period

September is the start of meteorological autumn and, in California, the most active period for ballot initiative filings. Based on Ballotpedia’s analysis of the last three election cycles, you’ll get your first look at initiatives likely to be on California’s 2020 ballot over the next four months.
As of August 29, 27 citizen-initiated measures have been filed in California targeting the election on November 3, 2020. What can we expect in the months ahead?
Before initiative proponents begin collecting signatures, they must file their measure with the attorney general and receive a ballot title and summary. This is the first time the public sees a potential initiative.
Based on citizen-initiated measures filed in 2014, 2016, and 2018, four months in the two-year election cycle featured at least 12 filings on average. Those months are September (13 filings), October (14 filings), November (14 filings), and December (12 filings) of odd-numbered years, such as 2019. In 2014, 2016, and 2018, an average of half of the citizen-initiated measures that qualified for the ballot were filed during this period between September and December.
So far, three statewide ballot propositions have qualified for the ballot.
  • Californians will decide two citizen-initiated measures designed to amend or repeal criminal sentencing and supervision laws passed during the second tenure of Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown (2011-2019): the Criminal Sentencing Initiative and Cash Bail Referendum.
  • A ballot initiative to amend Proposition 13 (1978) also qualified for the ballot. The proposal would tax commercial and industrial properties based on market value, rather than their purchase price plus the lesser of inflation or 2 percent. Proponents, however, announced on August 13, 2019, that the campaign would focus on gathering signatures for a revised version.
Going into September, several proponents who have been successful at qualifying initiatives in the past are circulating measures. Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation sponsored Proposition 10 (2018), Proposition 60 (2016), and Proposition 61 (2016). Weinstein filed a potential 2020 initiative to expand the power of local governments to adopt rent control. Thomas Hiltachk, an election lawyer who has worked on campaigns in California since the 1990s, filed an initiative to require that arrested persons be given the option to post cash bail for pre-trial release. Alexander Creel of the California Association of Realtors, which qualified an initiative in 2018, filed a measure to make changes to when tax assessments are transferred between properties. Joseph Caves was the proponent of Proposition 21 (2010) and Proposition 39 (2012). He filed a bond measure for projects related to climate resilience in 2020.
Should the trend from the past three election cycles continue into 2020, then around half of the citizen-initiated measures that will be certified for the ballot have not been filed yet. One of the biggest differences between the previous cycles and 2020, however, is the number of signatures required for an initiative. Turnout in 2018 increased 70 percent from 2014, driving the signature requirement for constitutional amendments to nearly 1 million signatures and for statutes to over 623,000. The deadline for signature verification is June 25, 2020, but, due to the time needed to of check signatures, the suggested deadline to submit signatures for a full check is March 3, 2020.

California Assembly passes constitutional amendments to lower the voting age

Since returning from recess on August 12, the state legislature’s lower house has passed two constitutional amendments designed to reduce the voting age. ACA 4 would allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 at the time of the next general election to vote in that year’s primaries and special elections. As of August 2019, 16 states allow 17-year-olds who will be at at the time of the next general election to vote in that year’s primaries. Unlike ACA 4, the second constitutional amendment would make California the first state in the nation to not just lower the voting age for primaries but for general elections. ACA 8 would allow 17-year-olds to vote in elections. ACA 4 and ACA 8 could appear on the ballot in March 2020, and ACA 8 could be implemented in time for the general election on November 3, 2020, should voters approve the constitutional amendment.
Both ACA 4 and ACA 8 had the support of most Democrats—56 of 61 to allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries and 54 of 61 to allow 17-year-olds to vote in all elections. Most Republicans opposed the constitutional amendments—2 of 18 supported allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primaries and 3 of 18 supported allowing 17-year-olds to vote in all elections. The constitutional amendments needed 53 votes in the Assembly.
According to a California Assembly Floor Analysis, published on August 16, 2019, “Because the US Constitution only addresses abridging the right to vote and this measure expands voting rights there appears to be no conflict with the federal constitution. In an opinion dated April 12, 2004, the Legislative Counsel opined that an amendment to the California Constitution to permit a person under the age of 18 to vote would not violate federal law.”
With approval in the state Assembly, the question of whether ACA 4, ACA 8, or both will go before voters is in the hands of the state Senate. The 40-member state Senate is composed of 29 Democrats and 11 Republicans. At least 27 votes are needed in the Senate to pass a constitutional amendment. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) signature is not required to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot for voter consideration.
Between 1995 and 2018, the California State Legislature has asked voters to decide 32 constitutional amendments. Voters approved 84.4 percent of the constitutional amendments.