In Allen County, Indiana, voters approved a $130 million bond issue for the Fort Wayne Community Schools district, which is the second-largest school district in the state. The measure was approved 74 percent to 26 percent on June 2.
The ballot measure allowed the school district to issue bonds to fund repairs and renovations to 37 buildings. It was estimated to increase the property tax rate by $148.60 per $100,000 in assessed value, replacing expiring debt service property taxes.
The measure, known as REPAIR FWCS 2020, was the third measure in a series of three public votes concerning Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS) School Basic Renewal/Restoration and Safety Projects. The first phase of the school renovations (known as REPAIR FWCS) was approved by voters in May of 2012. The second phase of the school renovations (known as REPAIR Phase 2) was approved by voters in May of 2016.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Kansas City Question 1 was approved on June 2. The measure received 55 percent of the vote. Question 1 was designed to increase the sales tax by 0.25 percentage points, bringing the total city-levied sales tax to 3.25 percent (in addition to county and state sales taxes). Under Question 1, revenue from the sales tax increase will be used for Kansas City Fire Department operations.
Question 1 was put on the ballot through a 10-2 vote of the Kansas City Council on January 23, 2020.
Voters in West Ada School District, located in Ada and Canyon Counties, Idaho, rejected a ballot measure to renew a $14 million per year supplemental property tax levy for the period between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2022. According to results released on June 2, 54 percent of voters rejected the ballot measure.
The two-year supplemental levy has been renewed four times since 2012. The renewal would not have increased the total levy raised by the school district. At the time of the election, the existing total levy rate was $351 per $100,000 of assessed property value.
This measure was put on the ballot for the May 19 election, but the absentee ballot return deadline was delayed to June 2 due to the coronavirus pandemic, which meant results weren’t available until Tuesday.
Voters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, approved two amendments to the city’s charter on June 2.
Question 1 created a Philadelphia Department of Labor, along with a Board of Labor Standards, to administer and enforce citywide labor laws and collective bargaining agreements. According to election night results, Question 1 had 80 percent of the vote.
Question 2 changed the city’s charter to state that appointed officers and employees can volunteer for statewide candidates. Before Question 2, the city’s charter said that appointed officers and employees could not take part in the management or affairs of a political campaign but did not specify how that relates to non-managerial volunteer activity. Question 2 was approved by 65 percent of voters.
Both Question 1 and Question 2 were placed on the ballot through a unanimous vote of the Philadelphia City Council.
Yes on 805, sponsors of proposed Oklahoma State Question 805, turned in 260,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office on June 1. State Question 805 would prohibit a convicted person’s former felony convictions from being used to “enhance the statutorily allowable base range of punishment, including but not limited to minimum and maximum terms.” The initiative would provide for sentence modifications for eligible persons.
Yes on 805 President Sarah Edwards said, “Oklahoma has an incarceration crisis. This crisis separates families, damages communities and hurts our state’s chances of success. For several years, legislators have tried to pass legislation that would rein in sentence enhancements and reduce extreme sentences. These efforts have failed despite widespread support from state leaders and Oklahoma voters. This campaign is a continuation of recent criminal justice reform efforts, acknowledging that much more still needs to be done to address this crisis.”
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R), who opposes the initiative, said, “Trying to put this into our state’s constitution, it peels back enhancements for DUIs, human trafficking, domestic violence — some of the things I don’t think we need to put into our constitution.”
To qualify for the ballot, 177,958 valid signatures are required. Proponents had collected more than 260,000 signatures as of early March. On March 17, 2020, Sarah Edwards, president of Yes on 805, made the following statement regarding COVID 19: “Effective immediately, Yes on 805 will suspend all of its public activities, including signature gathering. The health and safety of our signature collectors and the public at large is our number one priority. We are doing our part to protect and support our communities by taking steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. We’re confident in the status of the campaign and the strength of our movement, and look forward to fulfilling the will of Oklahoma voters by filing the signatures needed to put State Question 805 on the 2020 ballot.”
On March 18, 2020, the Oklahoma Secretary of State tolled the signature gathering deadline for initiative petitions until the governor lifts the state’s emergency declaration, which meant the window for signature gathering for each initiative was pushed forward instead of continuing to run during the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. On May 7, 2020, Yes on 805 filed a petition with the Oklahoma Supreme Court asking for Oklahoma Secretary of State Michael Rogers to accept the more than 260,000 signatures the group had already collected. Sarah Edwards, president of Yes on 805 said, “It’s imperative we place State Question 805 on a 2020 ballot. People who are serving excessive sentences can’t wait another year. Their families can’t wait. We hope this legal move will prompt quick action from the Secretary of State to ensure the thousands of Oklahomans who signed our petition to place SQ 805 on the ballot have their voices heard.”
Secretary of State Michael Rogers said he would not accept the signatures until the state’s emergency declaration ends, which was set to end at the start of June. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on May 26, 2020, that the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office must accept the signatures within 10 business days. Sponsors submitted signatures to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office on June 1, 2020.
A signature count was expected to begin on Wednesday. It was not known how long the count was expected to take. After the count is complete, the Oklahoma Supreme Court will determine the sufficiency or insufficiency of the number of signatures as counted by the Secretary of State. At this time, the state attorney general will review the ballot title and make any changes deemed necessary.
Signature validity and ballot title changes could be challenged legally within ten days after the Secretary of State publishes the signature count and final ballot title. Once all legal objections are resolved, the governor places the state question on the ballot.
On May 29, the office of California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that enough signatures were deemed valid for the second version of a ballot initiative to require commercial and industrial properties to be taxed based on their market value. In California, the proposal to assess taxes on commercial and industrial properties at market value, while continuing to assess taxes on residential properties based on purchase price, is known as split roll.
Proposition 13 (1978) requires that residential, commercial, and industrial properties be taxed based on their purchase price. The tax is limited to no more than 1 percent of the purchase price (at the time of purchase), with an annual adjustment equal to the rate of inflation or 2 percent, whichever is lower. According to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, market values in California tend to increase faster than 2 percent per year, meaning the taxable value of commercial and industrial properties is often lower than the market value.
The first version of the split-roll tax ballot initiative qualified for the November 2020 ballot in October 2018. In August 2019, the campaign Schools and Communities First, which is behind the proposal, announced that signatures would be collected for a revised version of the ballot initiative. Tyler Law, a campaign spokesperson, said that the campaign would not withdraw the qualified initiative from the ballot until the revised initiative qualifies. Law said, “The committee’s got the money. We’re going to get it on the ballot.”
About 1.75 million signatures were filed for the second version on April 2, 2020. At least 997,139 (57.02 percent) of the signatures needed to be valid. Based on a random sample of submitted signatures, 74.60 percent were projected to be valid.
Both versions of the ballot initiative would create a process in the state constitution for distributing revenue from the revised tax on commercial and industrial properties. First, the revenue would be distributed to (a) the state to supplement decreases in revenue from the state’s personal income tax and corporation tax due to increased tax deductions and (b) counties to cover the costs of implementing the measure. Second, 60 percent of the remaining funds would be distributed to local governments and special districts, and 40 percent would be distributed to school districts and community colleges (via a new Local School and Community College Property Tax Fund).
Whereas the first version would have taxed property whose business owners have $2.00 million or more in holdings in California and operate on a majority of the property, the second version eliminated the majority-operation requirement and increased the threshold to $3.00 million.
The second version also redefined the exception for small businesses. The first version would have continued to tax businesses with 50 or fewer full-time employees based on purchase price. The second version would likewise define small businesses as those with 50 or fewer full-time employees but would also require businesses to be independently owned and operated and own real estate in California to be exempted from the change.
Other changes involve replacing the state’s existing funding distribution formula for schools and colleges with a new formula for distributing the revenue from the ballot initiative. The second version would also give retail centers, whose occupants are 50 percent or more small businesses, more time before being taxed at market value.
Since the campaign Schools and Communities First will withdraw the first version of the ballot initiative, the qualification won’t change the number of measures on the ballot in California. As of May 31, six citizen-initiated measures have qualified for the ballot (excluding the first version of the split roll tax initiative). Three more ballot initiatives are pending signature verification. The verification deadline is June 25, 2020. June 25 is also the last day that the California State Legislature can place measures on the November ballot.
At the general election on November 3, 2020, Alaskans will decide at least two citizen-initiated ballot measures.
The campaign Alaskans for Better Elections is supporting a ballot initiative that would make changes to Alaska’s election policies, including (a) requiring additional disclosures for campaign finance contributions, (b) replacing partisan primaries with open top-four primaries for state executive, state legislative, and congressional offices, and (c) establishing ranked-choice voting for general elections, in which voters would rank the four candidates that advanced from the primaries. Former Rep. Jason Grenn (I-22), who is chairperson of the campaign, described the ballot initiative as “kind of a three-pronged attack on making our elections better.” The campaign has received financial backing from the nonprofits Unite America, Action Now Initiative, and Represent.Us
The ballot initiative is the first citizen-initiated measure to establish top-four primaries, as well as the first to couple top-four primaries with ranked-choice voting. Voters in one state—Maine—approved a ranked-choice voting ballot initiative in 2016. Massachusetts and North Dakota could join Alaska in voting on ranked-choice voting in 2020.
Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share is leading the campaign in support of a ballot initiative to increase taxes on oil production fields located in Alaska’s North Slope that have a lifetime output of at least 400 million barrels of oil and an output of at least 40,000 barrels per day in the preceding calendar year. According to Robin Brena, chairperson of the campaign behind the ballot initiative, three oil production fields—Alpine, Kuparuk, and Prudhoe Bay—meet 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. Brena, the campaign’s chairperson, was chairperson of former Gov. Bill Walker’s (I) Transition Subcommittee on Oil and Gas.
With the support of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, ConocoPhillips Alaska, and ExxonMobil, the campaign OneAlaska launched to oppose the ballot initiative.
Both of the Alaska ballot initiatives face lawsuits that could stop them from appearing on the ballot or change their ballot language. Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer (R) and the Alaska Division of Elections (DOE), which oversee state ballot initiatives, argued that the elections-related ballot initiative addressed multiple issues and violated the state’s single-subject rule. In October, Judge Yvonne Lamoureux ruled that the ballot initiative was designed with a single subject—election reform. Meyer and DOE appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share is challenging language that Meyer and DOE wrote for the ballot initiative, arguing that some of the wording “was not true and impartial” as required.
In Alaska, the ballot can also feature veto referendums, for which campaigns have 90 days to collect signatures following the legislature’s adjournment. The Alaska State Legislature adjourned on May 20, 2020, and no veto referendums have been filed as of May 29. The legislature also had the option to place constitutional amendments on the ballot, but no legislative proposals were voted on or approved by the legislature.
The League of Women Voters of Michigan sues Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) over implementation of Proposal 3’s absentee ballot provision
In 2018, voters approved Michigan Proposal 3, a citizen-initiated measure that added no-excuse absentee voting to the Michigan Constitution. Before Proposal 3, statute required an excuse related to age, travel, religion, arraignment or trial, or election duties to obtain an absentee ballot. The League of Women Voters of Michigan (LWV), along with state chapters of the ACLU and NAACP, sponsored the proposal.
On May 22, 2020, the LWV sued Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) in the Michigan Court of Appeals over the implementation of Proposal 3’s absentee ballot provision.
Proposal 3 (Article II, Section 4 of the Michigan Constitution) states that electors have a right to vote an absentee ballot in person or via mail during the 40 days before an election. Existing statute says that mail-in absentee ballots need to be received by elections clerks before polls close (at 8 p.m.) on election day to be counted. According to LWV, Proposal 3 rendered the statute unconstitutional.
The lawsuit stated, “For instance, a voter who mails her completed ballot the day before election day will have her ballot rejected if it arrives at the clerk’s office two days later. The received-by deadline thus facially denies voters their express constitutional right ‘to choose’ to submit their absentee ballots ‘by mail’ at any time within 40 days of election day.”
Proposal 3 stated that the constitutional amendment was self-executing and “shall be liberally construed in favor of voters’ rights in order to effectuate its purposes.” In the lawsuit, LWV asked the court to order Secretary Benson to direct local election clerks to count mail-in absentee ballots that were postmarked by election day.
On May 22, a spokesperson for the secretary of state said that the office had no immediate comment while the lawsuit was being reviewed.
Along with creating a state constitutional right to vote by absentee ballot, Proposal 3 established constitutional rights to straight-ticket voting, automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and the auditing of election results.
Update: This article has been updated in response to Judge Stephens’ order extending the signature filing deadline for the campaign Fair and Equal Michigan.
On May 26, the campaign Fair and Equal Michigan announced that they would file 177,865 signatures by the deadline on May 27, 2020, for a ballot initiative to add gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression to the state’s nondiscrimination law. The ballot initiative would also prohibit discrimination on the basis of the religious beliefs of an individual. However, Judge Cynthia Stephens granted temporary emergency relief, which extended the the initiative’s signature deadline to at least June 3, 2020.
Fair and Equal Michigan filed a legal complaint challenging the signature requirement in the Michigan Court of Claims on May 26. Judge Stephens said she would consider the merits of the complaint and motions on June 2. In the court case, Fair and Equal Michigan, along with plaintiffs Sen. Adam Hollier (D-2) and Rep. Mari Manoogian (D-40), argued that the signature threshold should be decreased to 127,518 because the coronavirus pandemic and related orders had the effect of limiting the campaign’s circulation period to 45 days. In Michigan, campaigns receive 180 days to collect signatures. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D), Director of Elections Jonathan Brater, and the Michigan Board of State Canvassers were named as defendants.
At least 340,047 valid signatures need to be collected for the ballot initiative, meaning the campaign is currently more than 162,000 signatures short of the requirement. Trevor Thomas, a campaign co-chairperson, said, “The Stay-at-Home orders, while important to public safety, shut down all traditional canvassing right when our campaign was nearing peak operational capacity – which is about 50,000 signatures plus per week.”
The Michigan State Constitution requires that campaigns for initiated state statutes collect a total number of signatures equal to 8 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Since 4,250,585 people voted for governor in 2018, the requirement was set at 340,047.
Ballotpedia is tracking how the coronavirus pandemic and related policies are impacting ballot measures. Fair and Equal Michigan is one of at least 19 ballot initiative campaigns that have challenged ballot initiative requirements, including deadlines, verification procedures, signature thresholds, and in-person signature requirements, in courts.
Fair and Equal Michigan had raised $2.22 million through the most recent campaign finance period, which ended on April 20, 2020. The largest contributor was a 501(C)(4) organization named Bipartisan Solutions. Dow Chemical, based in Midland, Michigan, contributed $250,000. Kellogg’s, based in Battle Creek, Michigan, contributed $125,000.
On May 22, the Yes on IP 34 campaign, which is sponsoring the Oregon Psilocybin Program Initiative, submitted 135,000 signatures, and the Yes on IP 44 campaign, which is sponsoring the Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative, submitted 147,000 signatures to the Oregon Secretary of State.
Citizen initiative sponsors in Oregon need to collect 112,020 valid signatures by July 2 to qualify a measure for the ballot.
The Psilocybin Program Initiative would create a program and client screening process for administering psilocybin services under the Oregon Health Authority. The program would permit licensed service providers to administer a psilocybin product to pre-screened individuals 21 years of age or older. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (Drug Enforcement Administration |DEA), psilocybin is a “chemical obtained from certain types of fresh or dried mushrooms.” The mushrooms containing psilocybin are also known as magic mushrooms, hallucinogenic mushrooms, or shrooms. As of 2019, psilocybin was classified as a Schedule I drug by the DEA.
The Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative would establish a drug addiction treatment and recovery program funded by the state’s marijuana tax revenue. It would also reclassify certain drug offenses. Possession of a controlled substance in Schedule I-IV would be reclassified from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E violation resulting in a $100 fine. Individuals who manufacture or distribute illegal drugs would still be subject to a criminal penalty.
In Oregon, signatures are verified using a random sample method. If a first round of signatures is submitted at least 165 days before an election and contains raw, unverified signatures at least equal to the minimum requirement, but verification shows that not enough of the submitted signatures are valid, additional signatures can be submitted before the final deadline. May 22 was 165 days before the November election date, which means that the campaigns may still submit signatures before the July 2 deadline if the random sample shows they did not collect the required number of verified signatures to qualify.
The campaigns had previously announced on May 4 that they would be coordinating their campaign efforts to ensure the campaigns reached their signature goals. Tom Eckert, the sponsor of IP 34, said, “IP 34 and IP 44 have always enjoyed a supportive relationship with regard to gathering signatures, and that will certainly continue until both campaigns cross the finish line and make the November ballot.”
Two measures have been certified to appear on the Oregon ballot in November 2020 so far. Both were referred to the ballot by the state legislature. A total of 183 measures appeared on statewide ballots in Oregon from 1995 to 2018. Of the 183, 47.5 percent were approved.