Tagballot measure

Second version of California split roll tax initiative qualifies for November 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.

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In November, Alaskans will decide two ballot initiatives, one to establish top-four ranked-choice voting and one to increase taxes on North Slope oil fields

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.

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The League of Women Voters of Michigan sues Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) over implementation of Proposal 3’s absentee ballot provision

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.

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Campaign behind Michigan LGBTQ nondiscrimination initiative files signatures below requirement while challenging the requirement in court

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.

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Oregon Psilocybin Program Initiative and Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative campaigns submit signatures ahead of July 2

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.

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Missouri Medicaid Expansion Initiative certified for the ballot

On May 22, 2020, the Missouri Secretary of State issued a statement certifying the Missouri Medicaid Expansion Initiative for the ballot. This qualified the initiative for the November ballot unless the governor called for it to go on the August ballot by the May 26 deadline. On May 26, Governor Mike Parson (R) announced that the amendment will appear on the August 4 primary election ballot.

The initiative would amend the state constitution to do the following:

  • expand Medicaid eligibility in Missouri to adults who are between the ages of 19 and 65 and whose income is at or below 133% of the federal poverty level, which would effectively expand Medicaid to those with incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty level under the Affordable Care Act;
  • prohibit any additional restrictions or requirements for the expanded population to qualify for Medicaid coverage than for other populations that qualify for Medicaid coverage; and
  • require the state to seek maximum federal funding of Medicaid expansion.

In Missouri, the number of signatures required to qualify an initiated constitutional amendment for the ballot is equal to 8% of the votes cast for governor in the previous gubernatorial election in six of the eight state congressional districts. Healthcare for Missouri submitted 341,440 signatures to the Missouri Secretary of State on May 1, 2020. The secretary of state used a random sample method, which projected enough valid signatures in congressional districts 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7, to qualify the measure for the ballot. In those six districts, a total of 172,015 valid signatures were required; 258,686 signatures were projected to be valid.

Medicaid is a government program that provides medical insurance to groups of people with income below certain levels and individuals with disabilities. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, provided for the expansion of Medicaid to cover all individuals earning incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in NFIB v. Sebelius that the federal government could not withhold funds from states that refused to expand Medicaid. The ruling had the practical effect of making Medicaid expansion optional for states. In 2018, the federal government financed 94% of the costs of state Medicaid expansion. For 2020 and subsequent years, the federal government was set to cover 90% of the costs.

Voters in Oklahoma will also decide a Medicaid expansion initiative in November.

As of 2019, a total of 36 states and Washington, D.C., had expanded or voted to expand Medicaid, while 14 states had not.

In 2017, voters in Maine approved a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid. The measure was the first time a citizen initiative to expand Medicaid appeared on any statewide ballot.

In November 2018, voters in Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, and Utah decided ballot initiatives concerning Medicaid expansion and the funding of expanded Medicaid coverage. The Idaho and Utah measures were approved by voters and later altered by the states’ legislatures. The measure in Nebraska was approved, and the measure in Montana was defeated. In January 2018, voters in Oregon approved Measure 101, thereby upholding 2017 legislation to provide funding for the state’s portion of costs for expanded Medicaid coverage through a tax on healthcare insurance and the revenue of certain hospitals.

In November, Californians will decide whether app-based drivers should be classified as independent contractors

At the election on November 3, 2020, Californians will decide a ballot initiative that addresses whether app-based drivers should be classified as independent contractors.

In September 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed AB 5, which established criteria to determine whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor. Uber, Lyft, and Doordash proposed a ballot initiative that would exempt app-based workers from AB 5. The ballot initiative would also adopt labor and wage policies specific to app-based companies, including a net earnings floor, healthcare subsidies, and occupational accident insurance for workers. Examples of companies that hire app-based drivers include Uber Technologies, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates. The ballot measure would not affect how AB 5 is applied to other types of workers.

AB 5 established a three-factor test to decide a worker’s status as an independent contractor. The three-factor test requires that (a) the worker is free from the hiring company’s control and direction in the performance of work; (b) the worker is doing work that is outside the company’s usual course of business; and (c) the worker is engaged in an established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.

Tony West, the chief legal officer for Uber, and John Zimmer, president of Lyft, have both said that their companies continue to operate without reclassifying their workers as employees. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), along with Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott, and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, sued the rideshare companies on May 5, 2020, arguing their workers needed to be reclassified as employees. Uber and Postmates launched their own legal complaint, contending that AB 5 violated their constitutional rights and their workers’ constitutional rights. Courts have not yet decided either case.

Through May 17, 2020, the campaign Protect App-Based Drivers And Services, which is supporting the ballot initiative, raised $110.69 million, including $30.47 million from Lyft, Inc., $30.23 million from Uber Technologies, Inc., and $30 million from DoorDash, Inc. Instacart and Postmates, Inc. also contributed $10 million each.

The California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, organized the Coalition to Protect Riders and Drivers to campaign against the ballot initiative. The campaign raised $690,000, with the Transport Workers Union of America providing $500,000.

Protect App-Based Drivers And Services filed 987,813 signatures. At least 623,212 (63.09 percent) of the signatures needed to be valid. On May 22, 2020, the office of Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that a random sample of signatures projected that 77.50 percent were valid, which amounts to a projected 765,555 valid signatures.

The ballot initiative is the sixth citizen-initiated measure to qualify for the November ballot in California. Four citizen-initiated measures are pending signature verification. At least two additional campaigns have decided against filing signatures due to the coronavirus pandemic and will instead file signatures this summer to appear on the 2022 ballot. The California State Legislature can also place measures on the ballot through June 25, 2020.

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Maine lawsuit challenges whether voters can overturn state agency orders

A new lawsuit asks whether the Maine Constitution allows citizens to use ballot initiatives to reverse agency orders. On May 12, Avangrid Networks, Inc. asked the Cumberland County Superior Court to block a ballot initiative that aims to overturn a Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decision to grant Central Maine Power Company (CMP) a permit to build new electricity transmission lines.

Opponents of the electricity project gathered enough signatures to put the ballot initiative before voters during the November 3 election but Avangrid argued that the initiative is unconstitutional.

According to Article IV of the Maine Constitution, citizens may exercise the legislative power through direct initiative. Avangrid argued that this particular initiative goes beyond an exercise of legislative authority by the people because “it would enact no law, would repeal no law, and would amend no law.” Instead of changing how the agency awards Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN), the ballot initiative would reverse a single PUC order granting a CPNC for the electricity project.

Avangrid argued that letting the ballot initiative move forward would violate the separation of powers provision found in Article III of the Maine Constitution. The company stated that the initiative would exercise executive authority by reversing an agency order and judicial authority by overturning a related court decision.

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Oklahoma voters to decide State Question 814 to allocate a portion of tobacco settlement revenue to Medicaid funding

The Oklahoma State Legislature passed Senate Joint Resolution 27 on Friday, which will appear on the statewide ballot as State Question 814 on November 3. The constitutional amendment would decrease appropriations made to the state’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) Fund from 75% to 25% of tobacco settlement revenue. Funds that are not being deposited into the TSET fund are deposited into a special fund, which would continue under the amendment. The measure would direct the legislature to appropriate money from the special fund to secure federal matching funds for the state’s Medicaid program.

The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) Fund was created through State Question 692 in 2000. The measure was referred to the ballot by the state legislature and was approved by voters in a vote of 69% in favor to 31% opposed. The TSET was funded through a percentage of revenue from tobacco companies under the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). The money in the TSET fund was earmarked for tobacco use prevention, smoking cessation programs, education, health care, and other purposes as established by the fund’s board of directors.

The Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) of 1998 is an agreement between 46 states, four U.S. territories, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, and, originally, four cigarette manufacturers (Philip Morris Incorporated, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, and Lorillard Tobacco Company). As of October 2018, more than 50 tobacco manufacturers were a part of the MSA. Annual payments to the states under the MSA began in 2000 with no set end date.

As of 2020, the average annual payment received by Oklahoma under the Master Settlement Agreement was around $75 million. About $56.25 million was deposited into the TSET fund. Under State Question 814, the amount deposited into the TSET fund would be about $18.75 million, and the remainder (about $56.25 million) would be allocated to drawing down federal matching funds for Medicaid.

State Question 814 was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 27 on February 3, 2020. It was passed largely along party lines with 96.5% of Republican legislators in favor and 81.3% of Democratic legislators opposed.

One other measure, State Question 802, is certified to appear on the ballot in Oklahoma. State Question 802, which will appear on the June 30 primary ballot, would expand Medicaid coverage in Oklahoma to adults between 18 and 65 with incomes below 133% of the federal poverty level.

A total of 80 measures appeared on the statewide ballot in Oklahoma from 1996 to 2018. Of the total, 77.5% (62 of 80) of the measures were approved and 22.5% (18 of 80) were defeated.

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Missouri legislature sends redistricting, campaign finance, and lobbying measure to voters with changes to 2018 citizen initiative

On Wednesday, the Missouri House approved Senate Joint Resolution 38 that would amend Article III of the Missouri Constitution to change or repeal certain provisions of Missouri Amendment 1 passed in 2018. The House approved the amendment in a vote of 98-56. The Senate approved the amendment in a vote of 22-9 on February 10. The amendment will go be for Missouri voters in November.

The amendment would enact the following changes:
• eliminate the nonpartisan state demographer and instead use a bipartisan redistricting commission appointed by the governor again;
• alter the criteria used to draft district maps;
• change the threshold of lobbyist gifts from $5 to $0; and
• lower the contribution limit for state senate campaigns from $2,500 to $2,400.

Missouri Amendment 1 (2018) was a citizen initiative approved with 62 percent of the vote. Amendment 1 created a position called the non-partisan state demographer, which was tasked with drawing state legislative districts. Amendment 1 required the state demographer and commissions to consider specific criteria, including what the initiative calls partisan fairness and competitiveness, contiguousness, compactness, and the boundaries of political subdivisions. SJR 38 would require that population size, adherence to voting rights laws, compactness, and county unity have a higher priority than partisan fairness and competitiveness in the criteria used for redistricting.

Amendment 1 also prohibited the Missouri State Legislature from passing laws allowing for unlimited campaign contributions to candidates for the state legislature. Amendment 1 established campaign contribution limits for legislative candidates and their committees for a single election cycle to $2,500 per person to a state Senate candidate and $2,000 per person to a state House candidate.

The 2018 initiated constitutional amendment was sponsored by Clean Missouri. The coalition of committees in support of the amendment raised $5.63 million, including $1.01 million from the Action Now Initiative and $1.00 million from the National Education Association. The Missourians First and Advance Missouri PACs, which registered to oppose Amendment 1, raised $343,201.

In Missouri, the state legislature can refer state statutes and constitutional amendments to the ballot for voter consideration. Both amendments and statutes require a simple majority vote of legislators to be placed on the ballot.

Between 1996 and 2018, about 63 percent (52 of 82) of the total number of measures that appeared on statewide ballots were approved, and about 37 percent (30 of 82) were defeated.

Between 2006 and 2019, 73.33 percent of the 30 constitutional amendments on Missouri ballots were approved.

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