CategoryBallot measures

Initiative signature requirements increase in 13 states and decrease in five states based on 2018 elections

Voter turnout in the 2018 elections caused a change in the number of signatures required for initiatives and veto referendums in 18 of the 26 states that allow at least one form of statewide initiative or referendum.
There are 13 states with initiative signature requirements based on midterm gubernatorial or secretary of state elections. In each of these states, turnout was higher than in 2014 and signature requirements increased.
In these 13 states, the signature requirement increases ranged from 3.2 percent in Maine to 70.3 percent in California, where the signature requirements are higher than they’ve ever been in the state’s 106 years of direct democracy. These increased requirements will apply to the 2020 and 2022 election cycles. In three states—Colorado, Maine, and Ohio—initiatives can go on the ballot in odd-numbered years as well, so these requirements will also apply to initiatives for the 2019 and 2021 ballots.
There are four states with signature requirements based on turnout at general elections. In each of those states, turnout was lower than in 2016 and signature requirements decreased. In these four states, the signature requirement decreases ranged from 11.3 percent in Alaska to 20.7 percent in Wyoming. These decreased requirements will apply to the 2020 election cycle, after which the requirements will be reset based on turnout in that election.
Six states base initiative signature requirements on odd-year or presidential year gubernatorial elections. The 2018 elections had no effect on the signature requirements in those states; the requirements will be determined by the 2020 elections.
Three states base signature requirements on voter registration or population. Idaho is one of these and was the fifth state to have a decrease in initiative signature requirements based on 2018 elections. Signature requirements in Idaho are based on voter registration totals at the time of the last general election. The other two states that base requirements on voter registration or population, Nebraska and North Dakota, calculate the requirement at certain stages of the initiative process rather than at the time of a previous election.
Signature requirements are determined differently depending on the state. The majority of states with citizen-initiated measures—16—base signature requirements on ballots cast for gubernatorial candidates in the preceding gubernatorial election. Four states base signature requirements on total ballots cast in the preceding general election. Of the remaining states, two states base requirements on voters for presidential candidates within the state, two states base requirements on registered voters, one state bases requirements on votes cast for secretary of state candidates, and one state bases requirements on the state population.

Record number of local marijuana tax measures on California ballots in 2018

The first ballot measure to introduce a tax on marijuana in the U.S. was passed in Oakland, California, on July 21, 2009. Since then, there have been 185 more measures related to marijuana taxes on ballots in California, most of which have proposed new taxes. Of the 185 total marijuana tax measures since 2009, 88 percent were approved.
California voters approved Proposition 215 to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. In 2016, voters approved Proposition 64, which legalized the possession, cultivation, and personal use of recreational marijuana. Proposition 64 also allowed for the sale and taxation of recreational marijuana in California, beginning on January 1, 2018.

In some cities and counties in California, measures proposing taxes on recreational marijuana were on ballots prior to the legal effective date of sales and taxation under Proposition 64. Many cities and counties, however, had measures proposing taxes on recreational marijuana on the ballot in 2018 following the effective date. There were 95 local marijuana tax measures on ballots across California in 2018, compared to 43 in 2016—a 220 percent increase. There were 16 marijuana tax measures on local California ballots in 2017; all but one were approved. From 2009 through 2015, there were 32 local marijuana tax measures in California.
Of the 95 marijuana tax measures in 2018, 86 were approved, amounting to a 91 percent approval rate. The highest tax rate on marijuana businesses that was approved in 2018 was 15 percent of annual gross receipts. This tax rate was approved in Atwater, Calexico, Ceres, Chula Vista, Oakdale, Palm Desert, Patterson, Sonora, Suisun City, Tuolumne County, and Yolo County. Two measures were approved in 2016 that had higher tax rates—a 20 percent gross receipts tax in Santa Barbara County and an 18 percent gross receipts tax in Carson. Tax rates ranged from 0 percent to 15 percent of gross receipts and from $0 to $25 per square foot for manufacturing and cultivation. Some taxes were based on net profits rather than gross receipts. Others were calculated per ounce.
An estimated $2.5 billion was spent on the purchase of legal marijuana throughout the state in 2018, a figure that was down from 2017’s $3 billion, according to GreenEdge sales tracking. Proposition 64 authorized the state to levy a marijuana cultivation tax of $9.25 per ounce for flowers and $2.75 per ounce for leaves and a 15 percent excise tax on the retail price of marijuana. These statewide taxes are in addition to any local marijuana taxes. State marijuana tax revenues reached $60.9 million in the first quarter of 2018, $80.2 million in the second quarter, and $93.1 million in the third quarter. Total marijuana tax revenues were lower than the $630 million predicted for 2018 by former Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

Kentucky State Senate passes its first bill of 2019—a 2020 ballot measure to move state executive elections to presidential election years

On January 10, 2019, the Kentucky State Senate approved a constitutional amendment to change the election date for state executive officials from odd-numbered years to even-numbered presidential election years beginning in 2028. The vote was 31-4. Senate Republicans supported the amendment, while Democrats were divided 4-4. The constitutional amendment needs 60 votes in the state House, assuming no vacancies, to make the ballot on November 3, 2020.
The following offices would have their elections moved from odd-numbered to even-numbered years: governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, auditor, attorney general, secretary of state, and commissioner of agriculture. The last election for state executive officials in Kentucky was November 3, 2015. The next election is scheduled for November 5, 2019. The measure would make the election on November 7, 2023, the last to be held in an odd-numbered year. Officials elected in 2023 would serve a five-year term, rather than a four-year term, until officials elected on November 7, 2028, were seated.
Sen. Christian McDaniel (R), who is sponsoring the amendment, said moving the election date would save the state about $15 million. Sen. Wil Schroder (D), one of the Democrats who voted for the amendment, said he believed that the move would double voter turnout in state executive races. Sen. Robin Webb (D) voted against the amendment, saying, “Kentucky needs to be allowed to focus on Kentucky issues and set aside the national fray… that sometimes are not as relatable to the Commonwealth and its issues and its people.” At the past five presidential elections, Kentucky voted for the Republican presidential candidate. At the state’s past five gubernatorial elections, the Democratic candidate won three of the elections and the Republican candidate won the other two.
As of 2019, 11 states held their gubernatorial elections during even-numbered presidential elections and 36 states held their gubernatorial elections during even-numbered midterm elections. New Hampshire and Vermont held their gubernatorial elections during even-numbered presidential elections and midterm elections because their gubernatorial term lengths are two years. Kentucky was one of five states that held their gubernatorial elections during odd-numbered years. The other four states are Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia.

Window to file Initiatives to the People in Washington opened on January 5; signatures are due July 5, 2019

January 5 was the first day to file petitions for Initiatives to the People in Washington to start the process; 259,622 signatures are due by July 5 to qualify the initiatives for the 2019 ballot. Ballotpedia checks for new filings daily, so be sure to watch our coverage for updates. As of January 11, no Initiatives to the People had been filed.

Signatures for two Initiatives to the Legislature (the other type of citizen initiative in Washington) were submitted to qualify for consideration by the legislature and then to appear on the November 2019 ballot in Washington if the legislature does not approve them. Sponsors for each initiative submitted around 100,000 more signatures than the number of valid signatures required to qualify.
Citizens of Washington may initiate legislation as either a direct initiated state statute – called Initiative to the People (ITP) – or indirect initiated state statute – called Initiative to the Legislature (ITL). In Washington, citizens also have the power to ask voters to repeal legislation through veto referendum petitions. Citizens may not initiate constitutional amendments. The Washington State Legislature, however, may place legislatively referred constitutional amendments on the ballot with a two-thirds (66.67 percent) supermajority vote in each chamber.
Initiatives to the Legislature are considered by state legislators if enough signatures are submitted. If the legislature approves the initiative, it is enacted. If the legislature does not approve it, it goes to the voters. The deadline to submit signatures for 2019 Initiatives to the Legislature was January 4. Initiatives to the People go directly to the ballot if enough valid signatures are submitted.


U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear state-led lawsuits against California’s and Massachusetts’ meat and egg sale ballot initiatives

On January 8, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear cases regarding whether ballot initiatives and related legislation in California and Massachusetts designed to regulate the sale of animal products violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The court did not issue a reason for declining the cases, but Justice Clarence Thomas said he would have granted hearings.
The cases involved California AB 1435—which was designed to enforce provisions of Proposition 2 (2008)—and Massachusetts Question 3 (2016). The cases also had implications for California Proposition 12 (2018).
California Proposition 2 banned the confinement of pregnant pigs, calves raised for veal, and egg-laying hens in a manner that did not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. The California State Legislature approved a law, AB 1435, that banned the sale of shelled eggs from hens confined to areas that did not meet Proposition 2’s standards. In 2014, 13 states sued California, saying that farmers located in their states needed to either increase production costs to meet the proposition’s requirements or forgo selling eggs on the market in California. AB 1435, according to plaintiffs, had a substantial burden on interstate commerce. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of California in 2016, with the court’s opinion saying that the plaintiff states failed to demonstrate that the law impacted them as states and their residents, rather than just egg producers.
Massachusetts Question 3 banned the confinement of pregnant pigs, calves raised for veal, and egg-laying hens based on movement requirements. Question 3 banned the sale of animal products from animals confined in spaces in violation of the ballot measure. In December 2017, 13 states asked the Supreme Court for permission to file a complaint against Massachusetts, saying Question 3 “dictate[d] how other states choose to regulate business operations and manufacturing processes within their own borders.”
The Supreme Court’s decision not to take up the cases is good news for California Proposition 12 (2018), according to the Humane Society, which sponsored the ballot initiative. Proposition 12, like AB 1435 and Question 3, prohibited the sale of veal from calves, pork from breeding pigs, and eggs from hens when the animals are confined to areas below certain minimum size requirements.

Florida Supreme Court dismisses a decade-old lawsuit claiming the state’s education system violated Amendment 6 of 1998

The Citizens for Strong Schools v. Board of Education lawsuit was filed on November 18, 2009, in the Leon County Circuit Court alleging the state failed to “make adequate provision for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high-quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high-quality education” as mandated by Amendment 6 of 1998.

On January 4, 2019, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit, ruling that the judicial branch lacks the competence or authority to make funding and policy decisions.

Amendment 6 was on the ballot on November 3, 1998, when it was approved by a vote of 71 percent to 29 percent. The measure was referred to the ballot by the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC), which meets every 20 years on the following schedule: 1977, 1997, 2017, 2037, 2057, and so on. Amendment 6modified Article IX of the Florida Constitution to declare it “a paramount duty of the state” to provide for the education of children. Amendment 6 was one of nine ballot measures placed on the 1998 Florida ballot by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady, Justice Alan Lawson and Associate Justice Edward LaRose said plaintiffs failed “to present any manageable standard by which to avoid judicial intrusion into the powers of the other branches of government.” Chief Justice Charles Canady said, “The judiciary is very good at making certain types of decisions — that is, judicial decisions— but it lacks the institutional competence — or the constitutional authority — to make the monumental funding and policy decisions that [the plaintiffs] seek to shift to the judicial branch.”


In the dissenting opinion, Justice Pariente wrote, “the majority of this Court fails to provide any judicial remedy for the students who are at the center of this lawsuit […] the citizens of this state intended for compliance — or noncompliance — with that provision to be adjudicated by the judiciary when properly brought to the court. Indeed, the task of construing the Constitution and determining whether the state is fulfilling its express obligations required by the Constitution — and the citizens of this state who approved the relevant constitutional language — is solely the judiciary’s task.”

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission convened in 2017 and referred eight constitutional amendments to the 2018 ballot. One was blocked from the ballot by a Florida Supreme Court ruling. The other seven were approved by voters.

Lawsuit timeline

Following is a timeline of the lawsuit from its 2009 filing to the 2019 state supreme court ruling:

  • January 4, 2019: Florida Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit on the grounds that the judicial branch lacks the competence or authority to make funding and policy decisions
  • November 8, 2018: Florida Supreme Court agreed to hear the case after asked by attorneys for Citizens for Strong Schools
  • March 2016: Trial held at the Leon County circuit court, where presiding judge George S. Reynolds, III dismissed the case, ruling that plaintiffs failed to prove that the state failed to meet their obligations mandated by Amendment 6 under Article IX
  • September 11, 2012: The Florida Supreme Court declined to accept jurisdiction and sent the case back to the Leon County circuit court
  • November 2011: The First District Court of Appeals panel of 15 judges voted 8 to 7 to deny the Writ of Prohibition and certify the suit as a “question of public importance,” which sent the case to the Florida Supreme Court
  • June 30, 2011: Hearing took place after the state appealed the denied Motion to Dismiss by filing an Extraordinary Writ of Prohibition, arguing that the courts have no authority to rule on the actions of the legislature
  • August 27, 2010: Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford denied the State of Florida’s Motion to Dismiss and ruled that the plaintiffs in the case had standing
  • November 18, 2009: Lawsuit filed in Leon County circuit court

Pennsylvania’s governor cited the state’s 1971 Environmental Rights Amendment in an executive order. What is the amendment?

On January 8, 2019, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) cited the state’s Environmental Rights Amendment (ERA), passed in 1971, in an executive order establishing the GreenGov Council, which was designed to work with state agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The governor’s order wasn’t the first time that he cited the ERA when explaining a decision. In June 2017, he vetoed a bill to preempt the local regulation of plastic bags, saying the bill was inconsistent with the ERA.
Voters approved the ERA as a ballot measure on May 18, 1971. The ERA provided for state constitutional rights to clean air; clean water; and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment. The constitutional amendment also declared the state’s natural resources as “common property of all the people, including generations yet to come” and declared the state government as the trustee of the state’s natural resources.
Courts interpreted the ERA through a three-part balancing test until 2017. The test asked whether the benefits of an action outweighed any harm to the environment. In 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected this test, with the court’s opinion saying the test stripped the ERA of its meaning. Justice Christine Donohue (D), who wrote the opinion, said the ERA established a public trust, with natural resources as the trust corpus, the state as the trustee, and the people as the beneficiaries. Justices Max Baer (D) and Thomas Saylor (R) dissented, saying the court interpreted the ERA’s description of the state as a public trust through the lens of private trust law.

Signatures submitted for Washington Initiative 1000, the Affirmative Action and Diversity Commission Measure

The Washington secretary of state’s office confirmed to Ballotpedia that sponsors of Initiative 1000 submitted signatures on January 4, 2019. I-1000 is an Initiative to the Legislature, a type of indirect initiated state statute, and maybe appear on the ballot for the election on November 5, 2019. Januar 4, 2019, was the deadline to submit signatures for 2019 Initiatives to the Legislature in Washington.
The measure would allow legislation and policies that use affirmative action without the use of quotas or preferential treatment. It would define affirmative action to mean the use of race, sex, ethnicity, national origin, age, disabilities, and military or veteran status as factors in determining education and employment opportunities. It would continue the state’s prohibition against preferential treatment based on certain characteristics and would define preferential treatment to mean “using race, sex, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, sexual orientation, the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability, and honorably discharged veteran or military status as the sole qualifying factor to select a lesser qualified candidate over a more qualified candidate.”
The measure would also create the Governor’s commission on diversity, equity, and inclusion, which would be responsible for ensuring compliance with the measure, and would be required to issue an annual report on the progress of state agencies in achieving the goals under the measure.
Washington voters approved I-200 on November 3, 1998. I-200, also an Initiative to the Legislature, banned preferential treatment and discrimination in public education, employment, and contracting based on “race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.” I-1000 would also add the following characteristics to that list: “age, sexual orientation, the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability, or honorably discharged veteran or military status.”
Two initiatives, I-976 and I-1000, submitted signatures by the deadline on January 4, 2019. To qualify for the 2019 ballot, 269,622 valid signatures are required. 
Of 47 total Initiatives to the Legislature filed with the Washington secretary of state’s office, Ballotpedia identified three other measures with active or potentially-active efforts. All other measures were either withdrawn or abandoned by sponsors. Signatures for those three measures, detailed below, were not submitted by the deadline.
  • Initiative 978, which proposed to raise the minimum age to purchase firearms or ammunition to 21, with exceptions
  • Initiative 1002, which proposed to prohibit marijuana cultivation, processing, and sales in residential zones; and
  • Initiative 1003, which proposed changing special education funding requirements.
Initiative to the Legislature is the name of indirect initiated state statutes in the state of Washington. Upon signature verification, these initiatives go before the Washington Legislature at its next regular legislative session in January. The legislature must take one of three actions:
  • The legislature can adopt the initiative as proposed, in which case it becomes law without a vote of the people.
  • The legislature can reject or refuse to act on the proposed initiative, in which case the initiative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election.
  • The legislature can approve an alternative to the proposed initiative, in which case both the original proposal and the legislature’s alternative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election

New Maine Gov. Janet Mills signs order to expand Medicaid under Question 2 (2017)

On January 3, 2019, Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed an order to expand Medicaid, known as MaineCare in Maine, citing the approval of Question 2, a ballot initiative, in 2017.
Question 2 was the first citizen-initiated measure to expand Medicaid via Obamacare, expanding the program’s coverage to persons under the age of 65 and with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line. In 2018, this amounted to an annual income of $16,753 for an individual or $34,638 for a household of four. Under Obamacare, the federal government was to provide 93 percent of funding for expanded coverage in 2019 and 90 percent in 2020 and thereafter.
Gov. Mills’ predecessor, Paul LePage (R), said his administration would not file an application with the federal government to expand Medicaid unless the legislature could fund expansion without tax increases or one-time funding mechanisms. In April 2018, several organizations that supported Question 2 sued the governor’s administration in a case that ended up going before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. The state Supreme Judicial Court ordered Gov. LePage to submit an expansion plan to the federal government in June 2018. In August, Gov. LePage wrote a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services asking officials to reject the plan that Maine filed to expand Medicaid. In November 2018, the issue was back in court, with a superior court judge ruling that the governor’s actions went against the initiative’s objectives. The judge extended the deadline for implementation to February 1, 2018.
In 2018, voters in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah also approved ballot initiatives to expand Medicaid. Voters in Montana rejected an initiative to re-approve Medicaid expansion with funding from a tobacco tax increase in 2018. As of January 2019, there are several states with the ballot initiative process that have not expanded Medicaid, including Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Florida and Mississippi—two additional states that have not expanded Medicaid—allow initiated constitutional amendments but not initiated statutes.

Could the 2018 elections impact constitutional amendments and legislatively-referred ballot measures in 2019?

Legislatures can refer measures, including constitutional amendments, state statutes, and bond issues, to the ballot for voter consideration. Amendments do not require a governor’s signature, but referred statutes and bond issues do, with exceptions in some states. Changes in the membership of state legislatures and governor’s offices, as a result of elections on November 6, 2018, could have an effect on how many and what measures are referred to the ballot by state legislatures in 2019. There are three states, in particular, that often feature legislative referrals on their odd-numbered year ballots and had partisan shifts in 2018 that could have an effect on the referral process.
Colorado: Democrats won the governor’s office and both legislative chambers in Colorado, making the state one of six to flip from a divided government to trifecta control in 2018. The change in partisan control wasn’t large enough to give Democrats the power to refer constitutional amendments without the support of some Republicans since constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote of each legislative chamber. The change in partisan control could, however, affect proposals for revenue increases as set forth in Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). TABOR, passed as a ballot initiative in 1992, requires a simple majority vote in the state legislature and voter approval of tax increases that generate revenue in excess of a formula based on inflation and population growth. With Democrats in control of both chambers in 2019, measures to override the cap on revenue will be easier to refer to the ballot without the support of Republicans.
Maine: 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. As Democrats have trifecta control in 2019, no legislative Republicans are needed to put statutes or bond issues before voters. Amendments to the Maine Constitution, however, still require support from some Republicans as Democrats do not control two-thirds of the seats in either legislative chamber.
Texas: Republicans kept trifecta control of Texas. However, Republicans lost seats in both chambers of the Texas State Legislature. Changes in the state Senate could have an effect on the prospects of constitutional amendments making the ballot since referral of a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the legislature. Republicans held 21 seats in the state Senate in 2018, which was enough to pass an amendment without support from Democrats. In 2019, Republicans hold 19 seats, meaning at least two Democrats are needed to pass a constitutional amendment in the state Senate.