CategoryBallot measures

Massachusetts Ranked-Choice Voting Initiative submits second round of signatures ahead of July 1 deadline

On June 17, Voter Choice Massachusetts, which is sponsoring the Massachusetts Ranked-Choice Voting Initiative, announced that it had submitted 25,000 signatures to city and town clerks. For this second round, 13,374 valid signatures are required to qualify for the November ballot.

The initiative would enact ranked-choice voting for elections in Massachusetts, excluding presidential electors, county commissioners, and regional district school committees, as well as elections in caucuses. As of June 2020, Maine was the only state to have adopted and implemented ranked-choice voting at the state level.

RCV is a voting method in which voters rank candidates according to their preferences. A candidate that receives a majority of first-preference votes is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated, and votes are redistributed in rounds until one candidate has a majority.

Citizens of Massachusetts may initiate legislation through the process of indirect initiative. A first round of signatures equal to 3 percent of the votes cast for governor is required to put an initiative before the legislature. A second round of signatures equal to 0.5 percent of the votes cast for governor in the last election is required to put the measure on the ballot if the legislature rejects or declines to act on a proposed initiated statute.

Campaigns for 2020 Massachusetts initiatives needed to submit 80,239 signatures for the first round by November 20, 2019. Voter Choice Massachusetts submitted 111,268 valid signatures to the Secretary of State. Since the state legislature did not enact the law by May 5, 2020, the campaign moved on to the second round of signature gathering to place the initiative on the November ballot. The campaign needed to submit 13,374 valid signatures by July 1, 2020.

In April 2020, Voter Choice Massachusetts and the other three campaigns gathering a second round of signatures for proposed initiatives—Massachusetts “Right to Repair” Initiative, the Nursing Homes Medicaid Ratemaking Initiative, and the Beer and Wine in Food Stores Initiative—filed a joint lawsuit challenging the state’s prohibition of electronic signatures. The lawsuit argued that the restrictions in place due to the coronavirus pandemic inhibited their right to petition the government. The four campaigns and Secretary of State William Galvin agreed to a resolution that allowed the campaigns to gather the second round of signatures electronically and remotely through mail or email.

In the press release from Voter Choice Massachusetts, Cara Brown McCormick, a senior advisor to the campaign, said, “This was the first electronic signature drive to get a citizen’s initiative on the ballot in American history. Together we gathered signatures at a rate of one every two minutes for 40 days in a row, and were fortunate to be able to do the whole drive while keeping everyone safe.”

Between 1996 and 2018, about 54 percent (21 of 39) of the total number of measures that appeared on statewide ballots in Massachusetts were approved, and about 46 percent (18 of 39) were defeated.

Additional Reading:

Colorado to vote on repeal of Gallagher Amendment

The Colorado Legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the 2020 ballot that would repeal the Gallagher Amendment of 1982. The Gallagher Amendment limits the residential and non-residential property tax assessment rates so that residential property tax revenue equals 45% of the total share of state property tax revenue and non-residential property tax revenue equals 55% of the total share of state property tax revenue.

Under the Gallagher Amendment, property tax assessment rates were initially set in the state constitution to be 29% for non-residential property and 21% for residential property. The residential assessment rate was adjusted every two years so as to maintain the 45%-55% split between the total share of property tax revenue. The current residential property tax assessment rate is 7.15%.

The legislature also passed a companion bill, Senate Bill 20-223, which would take effect if voters approve the constitutional amendment. Senate Bill 223 would prohibit the legislature from changing assessment rates for property, thereby freezing the current rates of 7.15% for residential property and 29% for non-residential property. Under the Gallagher Amendment, property tax assessment rates were expected to decrease. Therefore, removing the Gallagher Amendment and freezing property tax rates at current levels was expected to result in higher residential assessment rates than under the Gallagher Amendment.

The amendment was introduced in the Senate on June 1, 2020. The measure’s primary sponsors were Senators Jack Tate (R) and Chris Hansen (D) and Representatives Daneya Esgar (D) and Matt Soper (R). The measure was passed by the Senate on June 9 in a vote of 27-7 and was passed by the House in a vote of 51-14 on June 12, 2020. All no votes came from Republican legislators.

Coloradans are set to vote on a total of eight ballot measures in November. However, the state legislature passed a bill that would delay one of the measures, a transportation bond issue, to the 2021 ballot if signed by Governor Jared Polis (D).

In addition, 14 citizen initiatives have been cleared for signature gathering in Colorado with signatures due by August 3 to qualify for the 2020 ballot.

Louisiana parishes to vote on sports betting in November

On June 12, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) signed Senate Bill 130 (SB 130) that will ask the voters in each of Louisiana’s 64 parishes whether or not to authorize sports betting within the parish. If a majority of voters in a parish support authorizing sports betting, sports betting would be allowed in the parish after state laws are passed providing for the regulation of such activities.

In Louisiana, a simple majority vote in both chambers of the state legislature is required to refer a statutory measure to the ballot. The governor’s signature is also required to refer the measure. Senator Cameron Henry (R-9) introduced SB 130 on February 25, 2020. The Louisiana State Senate passed the bill in a vote of 29-8 on May 13, 2020. The Louisiana House of Representatives passed the bill on May 17, 2020, in a vote of 71-23 with nine representatives absent.

In 2018, the legislature sent a similar set of parish measures legalizing fantasy sports to the ballot. Forty-seven (47) of the 64 parishes approved the measures, and 17 parishes defeated the measure.

In November 2020, Maryland voters will decide on the Sports Betting Expansion Measure that would authorize sports and events wagering at certain licensed facilities with state revenue intended to fund public education. Voters in Deadwood, South Dakota will also be voting on a measure that would legalize sports betting within the city limits. As of May 2020, 22 states had passed laws legalizing sports betting.

On May 14, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Murphy v. NCAA that the federal government could not require states to prohibit sports betting, thereby overturning the federal ban on sports betting (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act or PASPA) and allowing states to legalize sports betting.

The Louisiana State Legislature has also certified six statewide constitutional amendments for the November ballot. The topics of the amendments include abortion, state government finances, taxes, and natural resources.

Additional reading:

Colorado Legislature gives final approval to a charitable bingo and raffles amendment and a cigarette tax increase measure

On Monday, the Colorado State Legislature sent two measures to the November 2020 ballot.

One measure would amend the state constitution to require charitable organizations to have existed for three years before obtaining a charitable gaming license instead of the current constitutional requirement of five years. The amendment would allow charitable organizations to hire managers and operators of gaming activities so long as they are not paid more than the minimum wage. Currently, the constitution requires those who operate charitable gaming activities to be a member of the organization working as an unpaid volunteer.

The other measure would increase cigarette taxes and create a new tax on nicotine products such as e-cigarettes. It would dedicate revenues to various health and education programs. The measure requires voter approval under TABOR since it would increase state revenue. The TABOR Amendment requires voter approval for all new taxes, tax rate increases, extensions of expiring taxes, mill levy increases, valuation for property assessment increases, or tax policy changes resulting in increased tax revenue. The Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights was passed in 1992 as Initiative 1 by a vote of 53.68% to 46.32%. The measure was spearheaded by Colorado activist Douglas Bruce (R). TABOR limits the amount of money the state of Colorado can take in and spend. It limits the annual increase for some state revenue to inflation plus the percentage change in state population. Any money collected above this limit is refunded to taxpayers unless the voters allow the state to spend it.

Currently, in Colorado, cigarettes are taxed at a base rate of one cent per cigarette. The measure would incrementally increase the per-cigarette base tax rate as follows:
  1. 6.5 cents per cigarette from January 1, 2021, to July 1, 2024;
  2. 8 cents per cigarette from July 1, 2024, to July 1, 2027; and
  3. 10 cents per cigarette after July 1, 2027.

Additionally, Amendment 35 of 2004 authorized an additional tax of 3.2 cents per cigarette. Revenues from this additional voter-approved tax are exempt from the TABOR limit.

With the addition of these two measures, Coloradans are set to vote on a total of eight ballot measures in November. However, the state legislature passed a bill that would delay one of the measures, a transportation bond issue, to the 2021 ballot if signed by Governor Jared Polis (D).

A measure to repeal the Gallagher Amendment of 1982 was also referred to the 2020 ballot by the legislature. The Gallagher Amendment limits the residential and non-residential property tax assessment rates so that residential property taxes equal 45% of the total share of state property taxes and non-residential property taxes equal 55% of the total share of state property taxes. The measure was passed by the Senate on June 9 in a vote of 27-7 and was passed by the House in a vote of 51-14 on June 12, 2020.

Fourteen citizen initiatives have been cleared for signature gathering in Colorado with signatures due by August 3 to qualify for the 2020 ballot.

Additional reading:

Proponents of a veto referendum in Washington file signatures to repeal a bill requiring comprehensive sexual health education in public schools

Parents for Safe Schools, sponsors of Referendum 90, submitted 266,000 signatures to the Washington Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday. To qualify the referendum for the November ballot,129,811 of the signatures must be valid.

Referendum 90 petitioners seek to repeal Senate Bill 5395, which was signed by Governor Jay Inslee (D) on March 27, 2020. Senate Bill 3395, sponsored by Senator Claire Wilson (D), vice-chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, was passed in the State House on March 4 along party lines with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans voting against. It passed in the Senate along party lines on March 7, except one Democrat, Tim Sheldon, joined all Senate Republicans in voting no. The bill is on hold pending the verification of signatures, and if placed on the ballot, the result of the election.

Senate Bill 5395 would require public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education to students in grades 6-12 beginning in the 2021-22 school year and for all public school students, including those in grades K-5, beginning in the 2022-23 school year. The curriculum would have to include instruction and information regarding affirmative consent and bystander training. Sexual health education would need to be provided at least once to students in grades K-3, once to students in grades 4-5, twice to students in grades 6-8, and twice to students in grades 9-12. Sexual health education would not be required to be integrated into unrelated subjects or courses.

Under SB 5395, comprehensive sexual health education means “recurring instruction in human development and reproduction that is age-appropriate and inclusive of all students.” Course materials would need to be medically and scientifically accurate, meaning the information has been verified or supported by scientific research, has been published in peer-reviewed journals, and is recognized as accurate by organizations such as the Washington State Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Under the bill, schools would be required to notify parents that they are providing comprehensive sexual health education and make all course materials accessible to the parents. Parents could file a written request with the school district or the school’s principal to excuse their child from sexual health education instruction. School districts would be required to grant such requests.

SB 5395 sponsor Sen. Claire Wilson (D) said, “Some people hear the words ‘sex education’ and mistake the focus of the curriculum, which is health and safety, and is age-appropriate for each grade level. This is about making sure younger children know what kind of touching is inappropriate, whether by peers or predators. It’s about helping older students recognize and resist abusive or coercive behavior. It’s about teaching all children to respect diversity and not to bully others. Students need a safe place to ask questions, to fully understand consent, and to have the information they need to make safe decisions.”

Parents for Safe Schools said SB 5395 “mandates graphic sex education starting in elementary school” and “orders school districts to ‘comprehensively’ include sex ed in all curriculum — including math, social studies, science, business and computer classes. … Keep the Olympia activists out of our classrooms. Parents and elected local school boards should be the only people deciding what is taught in our classrooms.”

The Washington State Catholic Conference, which opposes SB 5395, said, “The law requires ‘affirmative consent curriculum’ defined as ‘a conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity as a requirement before sexual activity.’ This requirement is not in accordance with church teaching that sexual activity be reserved for marriage. Parents can opt their children out of classroom instruction, but they cannot opt them out of school yard discussions and the culture change that may take place at school.”

Parents for Safe Schools had raised $158,903 according to the most recent reports available on June 11, 2020. The largest donor was The Reagan Fund, which is the name of the Washington State House Republican Leadership PAC.

Since the first in 1914, Washington voters have decided 38 statewide veto referendum measures at the ballot. Opponents of laws targeted for repeal collect signatures for veto referendum petitions hoping that voters will repeal the laws at the ballot. The most recent veto referendum, Referendum 88, was on the ballot in Washington in 2019. Voters rejected the targeted law, Initiative 1000. In 81.6% of cases (31 of 38), veto referendums resulted in the targeted bill being repealed. Conversely, 18.4% (seven of 37) of veto referendum measures resulted in the targeted law being upheld.

Between 1906 and 2019, 522 veto referendums appeared on the ballot in 23 states. Voters repealed 341 (65.3%) of the targeted laws. Voters upheld 181 (34.7 percent) of the targeted laws. The states with the most veto referendums were North Dakota (75), Oregon (68), and California (48).
Additional reading:

California Assembly passes bill for ballot measure to repeal Proposition 209, which banned considering race and sex in public jobs, education, and contracting in 1996

On June 10, the California State Assembly passed a constitutional amendment to repeal Proposition 209, which received 54.55 percent of the vote in 1996. Proposition 209 prohibited the state from considering race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

In California, a two-thirds vote is needed in each chamber of the California State Legislature to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot for voter consideration. In the state Assembly, the vote was 60 to 14—seven votes above the two-thirds threshold. Democrats, along with one Republican and the chamber’s one independent, supported for the constitutional amendment. Fourteen Republicans opposed the constitutional amendment.

Asm. Shirley Weber (D-79), chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus, is the principal sponsor of the constitutional amendment in the state Legislature. Asm. Weber stated, “The ongoing pandemic, as well as recent tragedies of police violence, is forcing Californians to acknowledge the deep-seated inequality and far-reaching institutional failures that show that your race and gender still matter.” Asm. Weber said that the constitutional amendment is about “equal opportunity for all and investment in our communities.”

Asm. Steven S. Choi (R-68), one of the Republicans who voted against the amendment, said, “Repealing Proposition 209, enacted by voters 24 years ago, is to repeal the prohibition of judgment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity and national origin. We are talking about legalizing racism and sexism.”

To appear on the ballot for November 3, 2020, the California State Senate needs to pass the constitutional amendment by June 25. At least 27 votes will be needed in the state Senate. Democrats control 29 of the Senate seats, while Republicans hold 11 seats.

As of June 11, no legislative referrals have been placed on the November ballot in California, but 10 have passed at least one chamber. Amendments related to sports betting and remote legislative proceedings are also being considered before the June 25 deadline.

Additional reading:

Atlanta voters approve measure to reauthorize 1% sales tax to fund water and sewer projects

Voters in Atlanta, Georgia, approved a measure Tuesday reauthorizing the city to levy the 1% Municipal Option Sales Tax (MOST). With 89 precincts reporting, the vote was 71% in favor to 29% against.

Going into the election, the city levied a 1% sales tax that was set to expire on September 30, 2020. This measure was designed to allow the city of Atlanta to renew the 1% sales tax for four years in order to raise $750 million to fund water and sewer projects. The measure was put on the ballot through a vote of the Atlanta City Council.

The city of Atlanta said the MOST tax is “a 1-cent tax that applies to most goods purchased in the City of Atlanta. These funds allow visitors and business people who use the city’s water and sewer infrastructure but do not pay city water/sewer bills to help pay for upgrading and maintenance of the infrastructure. … The city estimates that Atlanta’s already high water/sewer rates would have to increase by 25 to 30 percent without the MOST.”

The original 1% sales tax was in place from October 1, 2004, through September 30, 2008, and was used to partially fund Atlanta water and sewer projects. Voters approved measures to renew the tax for additional four-year periods in 2008, 2012, and 2016.

Reclaim Idaho filed a lawsuit seeking more time to gather signatures and permission to use electronic signatures

Reclaim Idaho, sponsors of the Idaho Income Tax Increases for Education Funding Initiative, filed a lawsuit against Governor Brad Little (R) and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney (R) seeking a preliminary injunction to grant the campaign 48 more days to gather signatures and temporary permission to use electronic signatures. The campaign announced on March 18 that it was suspending its signature drive. The 48-day extension equals the number of days between the date the campaign suspended its signature drive and the original May 1 signature deadline.

The campaign argued in the lawsuit, which was filed in the District Court of Idaho, that the restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus made it impossible for the campaign to collect signatures, and therefore the state violated the petitioners’ First Amendment rights to petition the government. In announcing the lawsuit, Reclaim Idaho said, “We don’t object to the Governor’s actions to protect public health. But the Governor and Secretary of State have a responsibility to provide alternative, safe means for collecting signatures during a deadly pandemic. We should not be forced to choose between public safety and our First Amendment rights to petition our government.”

The measure was designed to increase the income tax rate for individuals with incomes above $250,000, increase the corporate income tax rate, and create and fund the Quality Education Fund.

No Idaho initiative campaigns submitted signatures by the May 1 deadline. Two other ballot measures—the Minimum Wage Increase Initiative and the Medical Marijuana Initiative—cleared for signature gathering by the Idaho Secretary of State. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, both campaigns announced that they were suspending their signature drives prior to the signature deadline.

At least 14 lawsuits challenging ballot measure deadlines and requirements were filed in 11 of the 26 states that permit statewide initiative and/or referendum processes. The subjects of the lawsuits include the use of electronic signatures, notarization requirements, signature deadlines, and signature requirements.

Additional Reading:

Coloradans will decide a ballot initiative in November that would prohibit abortions after 22 weeks gestational age

Initiative #120, sponsored by Due Date Too Late, was designed to prohibit abortions after a fetus reaches 22 weeks gestational age as calculated from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period (LMP). To qualify for the ballot, 124,632 valid signatures were required. Sponsors submitted 114,647 valid signatures on the March 4 deadline and were allowed to collect additional signatures during a 15-day cure period. The Colorado Secretary of State’s office announced that the measure qualified for the ballot on June 8, 2020, after finding that proponents submitted an additional 38,557 valid signatures, bringing the total number of valid signatures submitted to 153,204.

Under the initiative, performing a prohibited abortion would be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine except for in cases where an abortion is required immediately to save the life of the pregnant woman. Medical professionals who are found to have performed a prohibited abortion would have their medical licenses suspended by the Colorado Medical Board for at least three years. A woman who has a prohibited abortion could not be charged with a crime under the initiative.

Seven states—Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and Vermont—and Washington, D.C., do not restrict abortion after a certain point in a pregnancy. The other 43 states restrict abortion at a certain point in pregnancy based on varying criteria.

In 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its ruling in Roe v. Wade, finding that state laws criminalizing abortion before fetal viability violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The high court held that states can regulate and/or prohibit abortions (except those to preserve the life or health of the mother) once a fetus reaches the point of viability.

One state bans abortion at 20 weeks from LMP, 17 states ban abortion at 22 weeks from LMP, and four states ban abortion at 24 weeks from LMP. Twenty states ban abortion at viability, which is around 24-28 weeks from LMP and varies by pregnancy. One state, Virginia, bans abortion in the third trimester, or around 25 weeks from LMP.

Measure sponsor Erin Behrens said, “We are going to put a very reasonable limit of 22 weeks, which is about five months into pregnancy. And we think that this reasonable limit will pass overwhelmingly in Colorado, and we will finally be brought into the 21st century. We will finally be among all the other states that have reasonable limits, and we will finally not be the late-term abortion capitol of the United States.”

Jack Teter, Colorado’s political director for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said, “This measure has no exceptions for rape and incest, it has no exceptions for maternal health, and that is cruel and unconscionable and that’s an abortion ban voters aren’t going to support.”

Bob Enyart, a spokesman for Colorado Right to Life, told Rewire.News, “Our misguided pro-life allies have presided over decades of regulating child-killing. You don’t regulate crime; you deter crime. … Their immoral initiative seeks to protect children ‘who can survive outside the womb.’ But what about the rest of them?”

Coalition for Women and Children, which operates Due Date Too Late and supports the initiative, reported $63,849 in contributions and $44,400 in cash expenditures according to the most recent campaign finance reports, which covered through May 27. The largest donors to the initiative’s support committee were Donald Hood and Kevin Heringer, who gave $10,000 each.

Abortion Access for All, which is registered to oppose the initiative, reported contributions of $105,000 and expenditures of $2,600. The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado was the largest donor, providing $30,000.

Voters in Colorado defeated citizen-initiated constitutional amendments in 2008, 2010, and 2014 that attempted to define person to include unborn human beings from the moment of fertilization.

Four other measures are on the ballot in Colorado:

  • A veto referendum determining whether to join Colorado into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) and awarding Colorado’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote if the NPVIC goes into effect;
  • An initiative to amend the Colorado Constitution to state that only a citizen of the U.S. can vote in federal, state, and local elections, instead of the existing language that says every citizen of the U.S. can vote;
  • An initiative to reintroduce gray wolves on public lands; and
  • A bond issue to authorize the state to issue transportation revenue anticipation notes (TRANs)—a specific type of bond debt—in the amount of $1.837 billion with no increase to taxes.

Fifteen initiatives have been cleared for signature gathering in Colorado with 124,632 valid signatures due by August 3, 2020, to secure a place on the ballot on November 3, 2020.

Additional Reading:

Louisiana Legislature sends five constitutional amendments to the 2020 ballot and a sports betting measures to the governor’s desk

The Louisiana State Legislature adjourned its 2020 regular session on June 1, 2020, and immediately started a special session to consider the state’s annual budget bill for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

During the 2020 regular session, the state legislature referred five constitutional amendments to the 2020 ballot for voter approval or rejection:

  • House Bill 267 would allow the Louisiana State Legislature, through a two-thirds vote in each chamber, to use up to one-third of the revenue in the Budget Stabilization Fund to cover the state’s costs associated with a federally-declared disaster.
  • Senate Bill 272 would authorize a property tax exemption for property that is subject to an agreement with local government and would allow certain property owners to make payments instead of paying property taxes.
  • House Bill 360 would allow the presence or production of oil or gas to be taken into account when assessing the fair market value of an oil or gas well for ad valorem property tax purposes.
  • House Bill 464 would change the state’s expenditures limit growth formula.
  • House Bill 525 would increases the income limit from $50,000 to $100,000 for those who qualify for the special assessment level for residential property receiving the homestead exemption.

The state legislature also passed Senate Bill 130, which would ask the voters in each of Louisiana’s 64 parishes whether to authorize sports betting within the parish. If a majority of voters in the parish support authorizing sports betting, sports betting would be allowed in the parish after state laws are passed providing for the regulation of such activities. Governor John Bel Edwards (D) is expected to sign the bill, which would then place a referendum on the ballot in each parish.

The legislature referred one other constitutional amendment to the November 2020 ballot during the 2019 legislative session. It would add language to the Louisiana Constitution stating that “nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

From 1995 through 2018, 185 constitutional amendments were placed on the ballot by the state legislature. About 10 constitutional amendments were on the ballot in Louisiana during even-numbered years. A total of 139 of the measures (75%) were approved and 46 of the measures (25%) were defeated.