CategoryBallot measures

Looking back at 2009’s ballot measure landscape

One statewide ballot measure has been certified for 2019 so far. 10 years ago, voters in 7 states decided the fate of 32 ballot measures.
Three things to know from 2009.
— Maine veto referendum: In 2009, the Maine state government legalized same-sex marriage. That November, voters approved a veto referendum, nullifying the law that had been passed earlier that year. Maine voters would later approve a ballot measure in 2012 to legalize same-sex marriage. The 2009 veto referendum passed by a vote of 52 percent to 47 percent.
— Casinos in Ohio: Voters in Ohio approved a citizen initiative to authorize the construction of casinos in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo. The ballot measure attracted nearly $75 million in support and opposition spending. Since 2009, voters nationwide have seen 42 statewide ballot measures related to gambling.
— The 7 states that saw statewide measures was the second-lowest odd-year figure from the past 30 years. Since 1987, odd-year ballots saw an average of 50 measures across 11 states.

Union-backed veto referendum to overturn Gwyneth Paltrow’s Arts Club project on the March ballot in West Hollywood, California

The West Hollywood City Council voted unanimously to place an issue on the ballot for March 5, 2019—Measure B—giving voters the opportunity to decide on the future of a development project backed by Gwyneth Paltrow.
The proposal in question was designed to redevelop commercial property at 8920 Sunset Boulevard. Paltrow and Gary Landesberg, chairman of the Arts Club of London, purchased the site in 2015.
The two hired design firm Gensler to design a West Hollywood branch of the Arts Club—a private London-based social club—for the 20,241 square foot site. The proposed nine-story building would be approximately 120,000 square feet and would include the private club as well as hotel rooms, restaurants, office and retail space, and a public art gallery.
After the West Hollywood City Council voted 4-1 to approve the development project in August 2018, Unite Here Local 11, a union representing hospitality industry workers, collected over 2,800 valid signatures to refer the Arts Club proposal to the city council for reconsideration. The number of signatures met the threshold required to initiate a referendum, which is 10 percent of the city’s registered voters. The city council had the option either to overturn the resolution approving the Arts Club project or to send the issue to the ballot.
There are eight other local ballot measures on ballots for the election on March 5, 2019, in California. The measures will go before voters in six local jurisdictions within Los Angeles and Fresno counties.

Majority of parcel tax elections held in San Francisco Bay Area in 2018

There was a decade high of 100 parcel tax measures on local ballots across California in 2018. A parcel tax is a type of property tax commonly used in California that is based on units of property rather than property value and has revenue dedicated to a specific purpose. These taxes can be levied by cities, counties, school districts, and special districts.
In 2018, the majority (71.4 percent) of all parcel tax elections took place in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is consistent with trends tracked by Ballotpedia over the last decade. Between 2008 and 2017, 64 percent of all parcel tax elections took place in the Bay Area, which comprises nine counties.
Of the 100 parcel tax measures in 2018, 65 were approved, and 35 were defeated. The highest parcel tax rate to be approved was $6,000 per parcel for vacant properties in Oakland, with funds earmarked for addressing homelessness and illegal dumping. The highest school parcel tax was proposed in Kentfield School District of Marin County, where voters approved a tax rate of $1,498 per parcel with a 3 percent automatic annual increase.
Parcel taxes require two-thirds supermajority votes (66.67 percent) at the ballot to be approved. The California Constitution requires a two-thirds supermajority vote for all special local taxes, as opposed to general taxes with revenue that can be used for any purpose. General local tax measures require a simple majority vote for approval.

Signatures verified for Washington Initiative 976 to limit vehicle license fees

On January 15, 2019, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman declared that enough valid signatures were submitted and that Washington Initiative 976, to limit vehicle license fees, was certified to the legislature. The initiative will be on the 2019 ballot unless the legislature approves it.
Initiative 976 sponsor Tim Eyman reported submitting 352,111 signatures on January 3, 2019, surpassing the required 259,622 valid signatures by over 92,000. 
Eyman’s I-976 would cap annual state and local vehicle license fees for vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds at $30.00. As of 2019, the state annual fee is $30.00 plus an amount based on a vehicle’s type and weight. In addition, certain local governments, including cities and regional transit authorities, add an additional fee. Initiative 976 would also repeal Sound Transit’s power to impose voter-approved motor vehicle taxes. Voters in the greater Seattle, Washington, region approved tax and fee increases proposed by Sound Transit for transportation infrastructure projects in 2016.
Proponents of one other Initiative to the Legislature in Washington, Initiative 1000, submitted signatures that are awaiting certification by the secretary of state. I-1000 would explicitly allow the state of Washington to implement affirmative action laws and policies while continuing to ban discrimination and preferential treatment. It would also define preferential treatment and affirmative action so that banning one and allowing the other would be compatible.
Initiative to the Legislature is the name for 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:
  1. The legislature can adopt the initiative as proposed, in which case it becomes law without a vote of the people.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
Over the past decade, an average of 33 statewide measures have appeared before voters in odd years (nationwide). In Washington, an average of five statewide measures have appeared on odd-numbered election ballots from 1995 through 2017.

In 2020, California voters will decide on bill to make their state the first to eliminate cash bail

In 2020, Californians will decide a veto referendum to repeal Senate Bill 10 (SB 10), which would make California the first state to end the use of cash bail for all detained suspects awaiting trials. Instead, SB 10 would institute a system of risk assessments to determine whether a detained suspect should be granted pretrial release and under what conditions.
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed SB 10 on August 28, 2018, and the veto referendum to overturn the bill was filed on August 29. The American Bail Coalition, a nonprofit trade association, organized the political action committee Californians Against the Reckless Bail Scheme to advocate for the veto referendum. The PAC had raised $3.00 million as of September 30, 2018, with the next campaign finance report due on January 31, 2019. The top-ten donors to the committee were bail bond businesses, owners of bail bond businesses, or companies that provided services or insurance to bail bond businesses.
On November 20, 2018, proponents reported filing 576,745 signatures with election officials. At least 365,880 (63.44 percent) needed to be valid for the referendum to appear on the ballot. On January 16, 2019, the office of Secretary of State Alex Padilla reported that an estimated 80.69 percent of the signatures were valid, putting the targeted law, SB 10, on hold until voters decide the bill’s fate in 2020.
In the California State Legislature, one Republican supported SB 10, while most Democrats (67 of 81) voted to pass the bill. Some organizations, including the ACLU of California and Human Rights Watch, that oppose the existing structure of cash bail also testified against SB 10, taking issue with how risk assessments were going to be implemented and used. John Raphling, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said, “We will not be joining the bail industry’s efforts, but we are not fighting for SB 10. We have a different vision of how to reform the pretrial detention system.”
Besides the Cash Bail Referendum, Californians will also decide a ballot initiative designed to amend or repeal several criminal sentencing and supervision laws passed during the second tenure of Gov. Brown (2011-2019). As of January 2019, three citizen-initiated measures had qualified for the ballot. The number of citizen-initiated measures on the 2020 California ballot will be set 131 days before the 2020 general election, which is June 25, 2020.

The State Ballot Measure Monthly: January 2019

The first 2019 edition of the State Ballot Measure Monthly covers all six of the 2019 and 2020 statewide ballot measures certified to appear on ballots so far.

Here are the highlights:

  • One 2019 statewide measure, a transportation bond issue, is certified for the ballot in Colorado.
  • Five measures in four states are certified to appear on the ballot in 2020; these measures concern renewable energy, property taxes and revenue allocation, criminal sentencing and parole, and a constitutional convention question.
  • Three of the measures certified for the 2020 election so far are citizen initiatives, two in California and one in Nevada.
  • Two measures, the Colorado 2019 bond issue and a 2020 renewable energy initiative in Nevada, were automatically put on the ballot due to outcomes of ballot measures in November 2018.
  • The most recent measure to be certified for the ballot was a 2020 constitutional amendment in Michigan concerning the use of state and local park funds.
  • Citizen initiative signature requirements increased in 13 states and decreased in five states based on 2018 elections.
  • In addition to signature requirements increasing by 35 percent in Michigan due to 2018 turnout, initiative signature petition efforts in Michigan will have to meet a new distribution requirement for signature collection approved by the legislature and signed into law on December 28, 2018.

U.S. Supreme Court will not decide constitutionality of Ariz. ballot measure denying bail to those charged with sexual conduct with a minor

On January 14, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request from Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) to decide whether a provision of Proposition 103, approved in 2002, violated the U.S. Constitution.
Proposition 103, a constitutional amendment, received 80 percent of the vote in 2002. The ballot measure was designed to prevent courts from granting bail for certain sexual crimes with minors under 15 years of age, including sexual assault, sexual molestation, and sexual conduct.
In 2017, the Arizona Supreme Court, in a 4-3 divided opinion, ruled that the provision denying bail to suspects charged with sexual conduct with a minor was unconstitutional. Bail, according to the court, could not be denied for those charged with sexual conduct with a minor without demonstrating that the suspect posed a risk to the victims or society. The provisions denying bail to suspects charged with sexual assault or sexual molestation were not affected.

Iowa secretary of state’s error restarts multi-year process to amend the Iowa Constitution

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) said that his office failed to report two constitutional amendments that the 86th Iowa General Assembly (2017-2018) approved in 2018.
The Iowa Constitution required Pate to publish notifications in two newspapers in each of Iowa’s four congressional districts at least three months before November 2018. Due to the error, the earliest the constitutional amendments could appear on the ballot is 2022.
In March and April 2018, the legislature approved:
  1. an amendment to provide a state right to own and bear firearms, and
  2. an amendment to allow the governor to appoint a lieutenant governor in the event of a vacant office and revise the gubernatorial line of succession.
In Iowa, constitutional amendments are referred to the ballot for voter consideration after a simple-majority vote during two successive legislative sessions with legislative elections in between. The 87th Iowa State Legislature (2019-2020) needed to approve the constitutional amendments one more time for them to appear on the ballot in 2020.
Pate said that his office’s failure to publish notices meant that the first-session vote on the amendments didn’t count toward referral, and the process needed to restart. Pate said, “Due to a bureaucratic oversight, my office failed to publish the required notifications in Iowa newspapers of two continuing resolutions passed by the Iowa Legislature last year. I accept full responsibility for this oversight and offer my sincerest apology to the legislators and supporters who worked so hard on these bills.”
Both of the constitutional amendments received the support of legislative Republicans in 2018. Zero House Democrats supported the amendments, while Senate Democrats were divided on both of them. Democrats won 46 of 100 state House seats in November 2018 and could have an opportunity to block the constitutional amendments during the 88th Iowa State Legislature (2021-2022) if they can pick up at least four more seats in November 2020.
In 2004, former Secretary of State Chet Culver (D) made a similar mistake as Pate, failing to publish a notification on an amendment to replace the words insane and idiot with mental incompetence in the state constitution. The Iowa State Legislature had to re-start the process and referred the amendment to the ballot in 2008.
In 12 states, proposed amendments must be approved in two successive sessions of the state’s legislature. In 10 of these, approval in two sessions refers the amendments to the ballot for voter ratification. In one of these states, South Carolina, the state legislature votes to put the amendment before the state’s voters in just one session and later, if the state’s voters approve the amendment, the state legislature takes it up again. Delaware requires votes in two successive sessions of its state legislature, but these proposed amendments do not need to go before the state’s voters.

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).