The Virginia Independent Redistricting Commission Amendment may appear on the ballot in Virginia as a legislatively referred constitutional amendment on November 3, 2020. The amendment would create a 16-member Redistricting Commission responsible for establishing Virginia’s U.S. House of Representatives districts and House and Senate districts of the Virginia General Assembly. The bi-partisan commission would be composed of eight legislative members and eight citizen members.
The Virginia Redistricting Commission Amendment was originally two separate amendments—Senate Joint Resolution 306 sponsored by Democratic Senator George Barker of Senate District 39 and House Joint Resolution 615 sponsored by Republican Representative Mark Cole of House District 88. The final measure was approved by the legislature on February 23, 2019. If passed again by the 2020 legislature, the measure would appear on the ballot in Virginia for voter approval or rejection.
In 2018, voters decided six ballot measures in five states designed to change how congressional districts, state legislative districts, or both types are drawn following the decennial U.S. Census. As of 2018, six was the highest number of redistricting-related ballot measures in a single year since 1982, when nine measures were on the ballot.
Redistricting measures targeting the 2020 ballot have also been filed in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Oregon.
On February 22, 2019, Tim Eyman, a frequent initiative sponsor in Washington, announced the start of the 90-day signature petition drive for Referendum Measure 80. Eyman’s slogan for the measure is, “Give Them Nothing.”
Referendum Measure 80 would ask voters to approve or reject salary increases for state elected officials set by the Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials (WCCSEO). The salary raises were approved for the nine statewide executive branch officers, members of the state legislature, and state judges. The first raise would become effective on September 1, 2019, and another raise would become effective on September 1, 2020.
The raises were voted on and approved by the WCCSEO on February 4, 2019. Signatures for the veto referendum are due on May 7, 2019.
On his website, Eyman wrote, “Politicians are asking for a 20% bonus from a commission of ‘regular citizens’ (one of them is actually the husband of a state supreme court justice!). It’s totally rigged… Help us veto this massive pay-off scam.”
Eyman is also the sponsor of Initiative 976, an initiative to limit annual vehicle registration renewal fees to $30, often referred to as the $30 Car Tabs initiative.
From 1914 through 2018, 37 veto referendums appeared on the ballot in Washington. The last veto referendum was on the ballot in 2012. In 81 percent of cases (30 of 37), the veto referendum resulted in the targeted bill being repealed. Conversely, 19 percent (seven of 37) of veto referendum measures resulted in the targeted law being upheld.
Following the passage of Question 2, the “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” Initiative, at a special election on February 26 in Toledo, Ohio, Drewes Farms Partnership filed a lawsuit against the city regarding the measure.
In Drewes Farms Partnership v. City of Toledo, Ohio, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio on February 27, the plaintiff argued that the “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” violates the plaintiff’s free speech, equal protection, and due process constitutional rights and that it is beyond the city’s authority to enforce. Drewes Farms also stated that enforcing the newly approved bill of rights could prevent the farm from properly fertilizing crops, as they cannot guarantee that runoff from fertilization would not enter the Lake Erie watershed.
Question 2, approved Tuesday with 61 percent of the vote, was designed to add the “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” to the Toledo City Charter, establishing that the Lake Erie and the Lake Erie Watershed “possess the right to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.” The charter amendment also states that the people of Toledo have certain rights, including the “right to a clean and healthy environment” and the “right to self-government” and grants that both the city and residents may enforce the amendment’s provisions through court action. Toledoans for Safe Water petitioned to place the measure on the ballot, stating that the “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” would protect residents’ access to clean and safe drinking water. The group formed after a harmful algal bloom (HAB) led the city to issue a drinking water advisory in 2014.
Two citizen initiatives were approved in Toledo, Ohio, on February 26, 2019. Question 1, backed by Keep the Jail Downtown Toledo, received 80 percent approval on election night. The initiative was designed to amend the Toledo City Charter to restrict the location of newly constructed jails and other facilities used to house those accused or convicted of crimes to the city’s downtown overlay district. Proponents led the effort to place Question 1 on the ballot in response to a proposal by the Lucas County Board of Commissioners that would authorize construction of a new jail facility outside of the downtown overlay district in North Toledo.
Question 2, known as the “Lake Erie Bill of Rights,” received 61 percent approval on election night. The initiative, backed by Toledoans for Safe Water, was designed to amend the city charter by adding a bill of rights stating that the Lake Erie ecosystem has the “right to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.” The initiative also added provisions to the city charter stating that the people of Toledo have certain rights, including the “right to a clean and healthy environment” and the “right to self-government.” Under the initiative, both the city and residents would be permitted to enforce the provisions through court action. The group Toledoans for Safe Water formed after the city issued a drinking water advisory for three days in August 2014. During that time, city residents were advised not to drink water from Lake Erie, where toxin levels had risen above the World Health Organization’s safety recommendation due to a harmful algal bloom (HAB). The group stated that Question 2 was designed to maintain residents’ access to safe and clean drinking water.
The Lucas County Board of Elections originally rejected both questions from the November 2018 ballot, stating that the city would be unable to enforce the proposed provisions. After proponents filed lawsuits, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in both cases that the county’s rejection of the measures had been lawful. Proponents then brought the initiatives before the Toledo City Council. The council voted unanimously on October 4, 2018, to place Question 1 on the special election ballot, and unanimously on December 4, 2018, to place Question 2 on the ballot. Following these city council votes, the Lucas County Board of Elections added the measures to the ballot.
Lucas County reported that turnout in the special election was at 9 percent of registered voters.
A parcel tax measure is on the ballot for voters in California’s San Marino Unified School District on Tuesday, February 26. Approval of Measure R would renew the district’s expiring parcel tax at the rate of $366 per parcel to fund education programs, instruction, and staffing. A parcel tax is a kind of property tax based on units of property rather than assessed value.
Voters in Toledo, Ohio, will decide two local ballot measures at a special election on Tuesday, February 26. Question 1 is a citizen initiative designed to restrict the location of jails, prisons, and other facilities housing individuals accused or convicted of crimes to Toledo’s downtown overlay district. The group Keep the Jail Downtown Toledo has led the campaign in favor of Question 1. Question 2, also a citizen initiative, would establish a bill of rights for the Lake Erie ecosystem. The group Toledoans for Safe Water has led the campaign in favor of Question 2. Voters have until 7:30 p.m. EST on Tuesday to cast their ballots in the special election.
On March 30, 2019, voters in the U.S. Virgin Islands will decide a ballot initiative to reapportion the territory’s 15-member unicameral legislature.
The USVI territorial legislature is unlike state legislatures, which divide districts between areas based on population. The USVI territorial legislature divides districts based on island area with no reference to population. As of 2019, the 15-member legislature consisted of two seven-member districts and one at-large member. Voters select their preferred candidate from a list, and the top seven vote-getters in the multi-member districts are elected. One of the seven-member districts represented the island of St. Croix, and the other seven-member district represented the islands of St. Thomas and St. John. An additional legislator was elected at-large, meaning voters from across USVI voted on candidates for the seat, but the legislator had to be a resident of St. John.
The ballot initiative would replace the territory’s two seven-member legislative districts and one at-large member with four two-member districts, one one-member district, and six at-large members. The legislature would continue to have 15 members. The four two-member districts would represent eastern St. Croix, western St. Croix, eastern St. Thomas, and western St. Thomas. The one single-member district would represent St. John. An additional six legislators would be elected at-large, but three would have to be residents of St. Croix, and three would have to be residents of St. Thomas.
In 1986, the U.S. Congress passed legislation to provide the USVI with a ballot initiative process. The number of signatures required to get an initiated state statute placed on the ballot is equal to 10 percent of the registered voters of each legislative district or 41 percent of all registered voters of the Virgin Islands. Proponents of the initiative filed 4,896 valid signatures from the two districts, which was 68 signatures above the requirement.
The U.S. Virgin Islands, abbreviated as USVI, is located in the Caribbean, east of Puerto Rico. USVI is one of the United States’ five inhabited unincorporated territories. The United States purchased the islands from Denmark in 1917, and Congress granted citizenship to U.S. Virgin Islanders in 1927. Like neighboring Puerto Rico, residents of USVI cannot vote for president and do not have a floor-voting representative in Congress. However, USVI does elect a congressional delegate, who can introduce legislation and vote in committees. Stacey Plaskett (D) is the territory’s delegate. USVI’s governor is Albert Bryan (D). Democrats control the legislature.
On February 22, 2019, Judge Bryan Collins of the Wake County Superior Court in North Carolina ruled that two constitutional amendments—Voter ID Amendment and Income Tax Cap Amendment—passed on November 6, 2018, were invalid. The ruling resulted from a lawsuit launched by the NC NAACP and Clean Air Carolina, which argued that since some lawmakers were elected from districts that a federal court ruled were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, the existing legislature was a usurper legislature and could not refer constitutional amendments to the ballot.
Judge Collins, agreeing with plaintiffs, said, “… the unconstitutional racial gerrymander tainted the three-fifths majorities required by the state Constitution before an amendment proposal can be submitted to the people for a vote, breaking the requisite chain of popular sovereignty between North Carolina citizens and their representatives. … Accordingly, the constitutional amendments placed on the ballot on November 6, 2018 were approved by a General Assembly that did not represent the people of North Carolina.”
Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the NC NAACP, responded to the ruling, stating, “We are delighted that the acts of the previous majority, which came to power through the use of racially discriminatory maps, have been checked. The prior General Assembly’s attempt to use its ill-gotten power to enshrine a racist photo voter ID requirement in the state constitution was particularly egregious, and we applaud the court for invalidating these attempts at unconstitutional overreach.” Senate President Berger (R-30) also responded, saying, “We are duty-bound to appeal this absurd decision. The prospect of invalidating 18 months of laws is the definition of chaos and confusion. Based on tonight’s opinion and others over the past several years, it appears the idea of judicial restraint has completely left the state of North Carolina.”
The Voter ID Amendment received 55 percent of the vote in November. The ballot measure was designed to require that voters present a photo ID to vote in person. In the General Assembly, the amendment was referred along party lines; Republicans voted for the amendment and Democrats voted against it.
The Income Tax Cap Amendment received 57 percent of the vote. The ballot measure was written to lower the maximum allowable state income tax rate from 10 percent to 7 percent. The amendment was referred mostly along party lines; three Senate Democrats joined Republicans in supporting the amendment and one House Republican and two Senate Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the amendment.
Voters approved two other constitutional amendments: (1) a right to hunt and fish amendment and (2) a Marsy’s Law crime victims rights amendment. These were referred to the ballot by the same general assembly but were not directly affected by the ruling since they were not targeted by the lawsuit.
The measure, introduced as House Joint Resolution 2 by Republican Representative Lloyd Charles Larsen, would remove the constitutional limit on debt a municipality could incur for municipal sewer projects. The current limit on debt is 4 percent of the assessed value of the taxable property within the municipality. This measure would remove that limit and instead allow the legislature to provide for additional indebtedness.
HJR 2 was approved in the House on January 24, 2019, by a vote of 45-12 with three Republican Representatives not voting. It passed in the Senate on February 21, 2019, by a vote of 27-3.
Vote totals by party:
House Democrats: 9 yes, 0 no
House Republicans: 35 yes, 12 no, 3 absent or not voting
Senate Democrats: 3 yes, 0 no
Senate Republicans: 24 yes, 3 no
As of February 21, 2019, seven statewide ballot measures have been certified for the 2020 ballot in five states.
Due to voter approval of Proposal 3 in November 2018, Michigan voters can request no-excuse absentee ballots beginning on Thursday, February 21, 2019, for the election on May 7. No-excuse absentee voting, also known as no-reason absentee voting, allows any voter to cast an absentee ballot. Michigan is one of 28 states, along with Washington, D.C., that provides for no-excuse absentee voting.
Before voters approved Proposal 3, voters had to meet at least one of certain specific criteria to receive an absentee ballot, including (a) 60 years old or older; (b) unable to vote without assistance at the polls; (c) expected to be out-of-town on election day; (d) in jail awaiting arraignment or trial; (e) unable to attend the polls for religious reasons; or (f) appointed to work as an election inspector in a precinct outside of the inspector’s home precinct.
Proposal 3 was a ballot initiative that added straight-ticket voting, automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and no-excuse absentee voting to the Michigan Constitution. It was approved by 66.9 percent of voters. On February 20, 2019, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) announced that she was creating a 25-member committee to provide suggestions on implementing Proposal 3 and other changes to election policy.
Promote the Vote, a political action committee, led the campaign in support of Proposal 3. The ACLU of Michigan, the Michigan State Conference of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters of Michigan launched the campaign. Promote the Vote raised $5.40 million, with 49 percent of total funds from the national ACLU. Protect My Vote formed to oppose the ballot initiative and received $3.36 million in contributions. The Michigan Freedom Fund was the largest donor to the opposition, contributing $3.06 million.