On Dec. 10, OKC voters will decide whether to approve a 1% sales tax proposition to fund the city’s MAPS 4 program of city infrastructure and facility projects. The tax was designed to go into effect in April 2020 when the city’s existing 1% transportation sales tax expires, thereby leaving the total sales tax rate in the city unchanged at 8.625% (state and local). It would expire in eight years and raise an estimated $978 million over that time. The three largest funded projects would be Parks ($140 million), Youth Centers ($110 million), and the Chesapeake Energy Arena and related facilities ($115 million).
The measure was put on the ballot by the city council, which approved the proposed tax ordinance on September 24, 2019.
Another sales tax measure, a 0.125% tax to provide about $15 million per year for parks, could be on the ballot for city voters next year. Former City Council Member Ed Shadid filed signatures for a city citizen initiative proposing the tax on December 2. If more than the required 6,499 signatures are found valid by city officials, voters would see the measure in March 2020.
The state sales tax rate in Oklahoma is 4.5%. The total Oklahoma City sales tax rate is 4.125%. There are no county-wide or other local sales taxes in Oklahoma City.
A measure to establish a top-two open primary system in Florida was certified on Dec. 6 to appear on the 2020 ballot. All Voters Vote, Inc. submitted 769,545 valid signatures for the initiative. To qualify, 766,200 valid signatures were required.
The measure would establish a top-two open primary system for primary elections for state legislators, the governor, and other state offices in Florida.
Currently, in Florida, primaries are closed, meaning a voter must be registered with a political party to vote in that party’s primary election. Under the measure, all candidates would be placed on one ballot regardless of political affiliation and the top two candidates with the most votes would advance to the general election. Under the measure, anyone, regardless of political affiliation, could vote in the primary election.
In cases where only two candidates qualify for the primary election, the primary would be canceled and the election winner would be decided in the general election.
If approved by 60% of voters at the 2020 general election, the measure would become effective on January 1, 2024.
All Voters Vote wrote, “The vast majority of races in Florida are decided in the closed party primaries—which excludes most voters. Those closed primaries are decided by the small, extreme wings of each party. Because of this, our elected leaders no longer have to answer to the majority of people, but only to a very small group of hyper-partisan voters. By giving all voters a chance to vote, politicians will become answerable to the majority of voters, not just a select few.”
In a poll by St. Pete Polls conducted in October, 3,283 registered Florida voters were asked if they supported the measure. 47.6% of respondents said they opposed the measure; 38.1% said they supported it, and 14.3% were unsure.
In 2004, Washington became the first state to adopt a top-two primary system for congressional and state-level elections. California followed suit in 2010. In Nebraska, a top-two primary system is utilized for state legislative elections. Twenty-one (21) states conduct open primaries for congressional and state-level offices. In Alaska, the law stipulates that political parties can determine for themselves who may participate in their primary elections.
Two other measures are certified to appear on Florida’s 2020 ballot. Amendment 1 would state in the constitution that only U.S. citizens can vote in federal, state, local, or school elections. Amendment 2 would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026.
From 1996 to 2018, a total of 91 measures appeared on the statewide ballot in Florida, of which 75.8% (69 of 91) were approved and 24.2% (22 of 91) were defeated. Between 1996 and 2018, an average of between seven and eight measures appeared on the ballot during even-numbered years in Florida.
The Massachusetts secretary of state reported receiving signatures from eight initiative campaigns on Wednesday, December 4. Wednesday was the deadline for 2020 ballot measure sponsors to submit signatures to state officials. November 20 was the preliminary deadline to submit signatures for verification to local registrars before submitting them to the secretary of state.
The number of verified signatures needed to qualify for the ballot is 80,239, which equals 3% of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Four campaigns reported submitting more than the required amount:
Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition reported submitting 102,000 signatures in support of an initiative that would broaden access to mechanical data in a vehicle’s on-board diagnostics or telematics system.
Massachusetts Senior Coalition reported submitting 87,000 signatures in support of an initiative that would change the formula for Medicaid ratemaking for nursing homes.
Voters Choice for Massachusetts, which is sponsoring a ranked-choice voting measure, reported submitting 110,584 signatures.
The sponsors of an initiative backed by Cumberland Farms that would allow food stores to sell beer and wine reported submitting 130,000 signatures.
The sponsors of two initiatives regarding the treatment of the disabled reported submitting signatures to the secretary of state, but it was not clear as of December 5 if they submitted at least the minimum required number of signatures.
Proponents of two initiated constitutional amendments reported submitting an insufficient number of signatures. These initiatives were the Massachusetts No Right to Public Funding for Abortion Initiative and the Massachusetts Voting Rights Restoration for Incarcerated Felons Initiative.
If enough signatures are submitted in this first round, the legislature must act on a successful petition by May 6, 2020. If the legislature fails to adopt the proposed law, petitioners then have until July 1, to request additional petition forms and submit the second round of 13,374 signatures. If successful in that second round, the initiative will be placed on the 2020 ballot.
The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund (RMWAF) reported submitting over 210,000 signatures on Tuesday, December 10, to qualify their initiative for the 2020 ballot. The measure would require the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to create a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves on designated lands in the western part of the state by the end of 2023.
The gray wolf, Canis lupus, was classified as a federally endangered species in 1978 (except in Minnesota, where it was classified as threatened). The gray wolf was removed from the endangered lists in Idaho and Montana in 2011. Idaho and Montana began wolf reintroduction programs in 1995.
To qualify for the 2020 ballot, 124,632 valid signatures are required. The submission deadline for this initiative is December 13, 2019. The average signature validity rate for ballot initiative petitions is 75.33%, according to a study based on 143 ballot initiatives from 2006 through 2018.
Proponents of ballot initiatives in Colorado have a six-month window to collect the required number of signatures, which establishes a specific signature submission deadline for each measure. The overall deadline for all 2020 initiatives in Colorado is August 3, 2020. As of December 2019, one other Colorado measure has been cleared to collect signatures— Initiative #120— which would restrict abortions after a fetus reaches 22 weeks gestational age.
According to campaign finance reports which covered through September 30, RMWAF had raised about $797,000 in cash and $100,000 in in-kind contributions. Speaking about why they believe gray wolves should be reintroduced in Colorado, RMWAF wrote, “Since the 1940s, when Colorado’s last wolf was killed, our ecosystem has suffered. A lack of natural balance means that too many elk and deer eat away the vegetation that holds streams and rivers back, leading to erosion and the disruption of even more habitats, like those for native beavers and songbirds. Wolves also naturally limit the spread of disease, such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), by taking vulnerable animals out of the population.”
Colorado Stop the Wolf Coalition is leading the campaign against the measure. The group has not yet reported campaign finance activity. The Colorado Farm Bureau is also opposed to the measure. CFB Vice President of Advocacy Shawn Martini said, “We remain skeptical that you can introduce wolves into Colorado and not create significant problems. Not only to our way of life here in the state which is based on outdoor recreations but also on livestock production in the western part of the state and to the ecosystem. Colorado is home to a number of endangered species that could be potentially be preyed upon by an apex predatory like the Canadian gray wolf. So we’re skeptical that these kinds of decisions should be put in the hands of voters through a ballot initiative.”
Two measures are currently certified for the 2020 ballot in Colorado: a citizen-initiated veto referendum over Colorado joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact and a transportation bond issue referred to the ballot by the state legislature.
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.
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.”
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.
Ballot initiative campaigns hoping to land a spot on the 2020 Massachusetts ballot had to submit 80,239 signatures to local registrars by Wednesday, November 20. After signatures are verified by local authorities, petitioners must submit those signatures to the secretary of the commonwealth by December 4.
On September 4, the attorney general cleared 10 initiatives for circulation. As of Thursday, Voter Choice for Massachusetts, Right to Repair Coalition, and the Massachusetts Senior Coalition reported submitting signatures. It is unclear whether the seven other campaigns met the deadline.
Voters Choice for Massachusetts is sponsoring the Massachusetts Ranked-Choice Voting Initiative that would enact ranked-choice voting for all elections in Massachusetts, excluding presidential electors, county commissioners, and regional district school committees, as well as elections in caucuses. Right to Repair Coalition is sponsoring Massachusetts Right to Repair Initiative which concerns access to mechanical data in a vehicle’s on-board diagnostics or telematics system. Massachusetts Senior Coalition is sponsoring the Massachusetts Nursing Homes Medicaid Ratemaking Initiative, which would change the formula that state healthcare programs, such as MassHealth (Medicaid), use to determine payments to nursing homes and rest homes.
The Wednesday deadline required at least 80,239 signatures, which equals 3% of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. If enough signatures are submitted in the first round, the legislature must act on a successful petition by May 6, 2020. If the legislature fails to adopt the proposed law, petitioners then have until July 1, to request additional petition forms and submit the second round of 13,374 signatures. If successful, the initiative will be placed on the 2020 ballot.
Voters in New Orleans decided four ballot measures on November 16, 2019, approving three of them and rejecting one. All of the measures were referred to the ballot by the New Orleans City Council.
Short Term Rentals Occupancy Tax (65% in favor, 35% against): This measure authorized an additional 6.75% tax on the rent or fee charged for short-term rentals to raise revenue for infrastructure improvements and a fund to promote tourism in New Orleans. The funds to promote tourism would be allocated to New Orleans & Company, formerly the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Human Rights Commission Charter Amendment (74% in favor, 27% against): This measure amended the Home Rule Charter of New Orleans to create a local Human Rights Commission. Going into the election, there was a Human Relations Commission that was created in Chapter 86 of the City Code. The City of New Orleans website on the Human Relations Commission wrote, “The Human Relations Commission was created in the early 1990s in New Orleans. Because it was not put in the City’s Home Rule Charter, it does not have the powers granted by the state to local human rights commissions. Today, it is only able to provide information and referrals.”
Bond Proposition (66% in favor, 34% against): This measure authorized the city to issue up to $500 million in bonds to fund infrastructure improvements, public buildings, housing projects, recreational facilities, public safety equipment, and all necessary land and equipment for said improvements.
Millage Proposition (54% against, 46% in favor): This measure would have authorized a special tax of $3.00 per $1,000.00 of assessed value of all taxable property for twenty years, beginning January 1, 2020, to help fund infrastructure repairs and purchase equipment, software, and technology for the city. City officials estimated the tax would have generated about $10.5 million in revenue each year. Officials from the New Orleans police and fire departments supported the measure.
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.