Tagballot measure

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court rules that 2019 Marsy’s Law ballot measure violated state constitution

Judge gavel on desk

On January 7, 2021, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that a ballot measure for Marsy’s Law, a type of crime victims’ rights amendment, violated the Pennsylvania Constitution. Pennsylvanians voted 74% to 26% in favor of Marsy’s Law at the election on November 5, 2019. Results were never certified, however, according to a court order.

The 3-2 appellate court decision stated that the proposal violated the separate-vote requirement for constitutional amendments. According to the Pennsylvania Constitution, “When two or more amendments shall be submitted they shall be voted upon separately.” Judge Ellen Ceisler (D) wrote the majority’s opinion, which ruled that Marsy’s Law would impact separate rights and provisions of the state constitution.

Judge Patricia McCullough (R), who agreed with the majority’s decision but wrote a separate opinion, stated that the measure contained “laudable and salutary provisions” but “simply embraces too many disparate matters to effectively convey its import to voters within the 75 words mandated by statute.”

Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt (R) dissented, stating that Marsy’s Law created constitutional rights for crime victims without changing existing provisions of the state constitution. Judge Leavitt wrote, “The judgment the court enters today deprives the people of this power on the strength of no more than speculation.”

Jennifer Riley, director of the organization Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania, responded to the Commonwealth Court’s decision, saying, “We are prepared to continue advocating for victims and to bring an appeal to the Supreme Court to ensure that the votes of Pennsylvanians are counted and that the voices of the victims are protected.”

In Pennsylvania, constitutional amendments need to be passed by the state Legislature during two successive legislative sessions. In 2018, both chambers unanimously passed the amendment. In 2019, the state Senate unanimously passed the amendment, and 190 of 202 state representatives voted for it. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) supported the ballot measure, as did the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and U.S. Reps. Fred Keller (R) and Scott Perry (R).

Opponents included the ACLU of Pennsylvania, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania raised $6.65 million from the Marsy’s Law for All Foundation to campaign for the measure.

Marsy’s Law ballot measures faced similar lawsuits in state courts in Kentucky and Montana. The amendment was struck down in Montana for violating the state’s separate-vote requirement on constitutional amendments. In Kentucky, after it was struck down for reasons related to ballot language, the state Legislature placed it on the ballot again in 2020. The 2020 version, which was approved, included the full text of the measure on the ballot.

As of January 2021, 12 states had Marsy’s Law amendments. Voters in two additional states—Pennsylvania and Montana—voted in favor of Marsy’s Law amendments, but they were overturned or blocked. Henry Nicholas, the co-founder of Broadcom Corp., started campaigning for Marsy’s Law to increase the rights and privileges of victims in state constitutions. Marsy’s Law is named after Nicholas’ sister, Marsy Nicholas, who was murdered in 1983.

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Washington initiative signature deadline passes with no campaigns submitting signatures

Citizens of Washington may initiate legislation as either a direct state statute—called Initiative to the People (ITP) in Washington—or indirect state statute—called Initiative to the Legislature (ITL) in Washington. In Washington, citizens also have the power to repeal legislation via veto referendum. Citizens may not initiate constitutional amendments.

The signature deadline for 2021 Washington Initiatives to the Legislature (ITL) was December 31, 2020. For an ITL to be taken up by the Washington State Legislature and potentially put on the ballot in 2021, proponents needed to submit 259,622 valid signatures to the Secretary of State by December 31.

A total of 216 ITLs were filed by 14 sponsors, of which, 135 were withdrawn. None of the campaigns submitted signatures by the deadline. The filed initiatives concerned a range of topics including taxes, sex education, sports betting, and affirmative action.

If campaigns submit enough valid signatures for an ITL, the initiative goes before the Washington Legislature at the 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.

Thirty-four Initiatives to the Legislature have been on the ballot since the first ITL in 1916; 18 were approved. The most recent ITL, Initiative 976, was on the ballot in 2019 where it was approved and later invalidated by the Washington State Supreme Court.

Besides Initiatives to the Legislature, Washington citizens may initiate Initiatives to the People. These initiatives are direct initiatives, meaning that groups collect signatures and once enough valid signatures are collected, election officials place the measure directly on the next general election ballot for a vote. Initiatives to the People (ITP) may be filed targeting the 2021 ballot beginning on January 4, 2021.

In Washington, the signature requirement for citizen initiatives is based on the total number of votes cast for the office of governor at the last regular gubernatorial election. Initiatives to the People and Initiatives to the Legislature require signatures equal to 8% of the votes cast for the office of governor in the last election. Veto referendum petitions require signatures equal to 4% of the votes cast for the office of governor.

The signature requirement for Initiatives to the Legislature lags behind by one year. For example, based on the gubernatorial election of 2020, the signature requirement for Initiatives to the People and veto referendums will change in 2021 while the requirements for Initiatives to the Legislature will remain unchanged until 2022.

Ballotpedia projects that the signature requirements for 2021 ITPs and 2022 ITLs will increase from 259,622 valid signatures to 324,516 and signature requirements for veto referendums will increase from 129,811 to 162,258 based on votes cast for the office of governor in the 2020 election (4,056,454).

A total of 61 measures appeared on the statewide ballot in Washington during odd years from the 20-year period between 1999 and 2019. 56% (34) were approved and 44% (27) were defeated.

Louisiana voters reject amendment to allow out-of-state members on university boards

Voters in Louisiana rejected Amendment 1 in the state’s general election held on Dec. 5, 76.5% to 23.5%. The amendment would have allowed the governor to appoint at-large members to the boards of supervisors for the public university systems from out-of-state if there are multiple at-large seats and at least one at-large seat is filled by a member residing within the state. The amendment would have applied to the boards of supervisors for the University of Louisiana System, the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, the Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.

The amendment was approved unanimously in both chambers of the legislature in October 2020. This amendment on the Dec. 5 ballot was the first post-November statewide measure in Louisiana since at least 1974.

State Sen. Cleo Fields (D), who sponsored the amendment in the legislature, said, “Leaders throughout the country have ties to our public universities. In fact, many alumni have skyrocketed to success in other states but are not permitted to give back in the form of board service. A yes on Amendment 1 welcomes new perspectives, expertise, and connections to Louisiana universities. … A yes on Amendment 1 maintains current boards and will only be used if appropriate at the expiration of an existing at-large member’s term.”

The Louisiana Republican Party argued that the amendment could result in positions on boards going “to rich outsiders who would do political favors to obtain such appointments from governors.” The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR), a nonprofit organization, published arguments for and against the amendment. PAR wrote the following argument in opposition to Amendment 1: “There is no requirement that the out-of-state members be graduates of the institutions they will govern. A broader reform might have moved the details of the composition of these boards out of the Constitution and into statute where they can be adjusted as necessary by the Legislature.”

Louisiana voters decided seven constitutional amendments on Nov. 3, approving five and rejecting two. Louisiana voters decided 189 constitutional amendments from 1995 through 2019. Of those, 121 were on even-year ballots amounting to an average of 10 measures per even-numbered year. Voters approved 75 percent (141 of 189) and rejected 25 percent (48 of 189) of the constitutional amendments since 1995.

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Nevada voters reject ballot measure that would have increased legislative control over state board of regents

On November 3, Nevada voters chose not to adopt Nevada Question 1, a ballot measure that would have given the state legislature more control over the Nevada State Board of Regents. The Board of Regents is an elected executive agency that manages Nevada’s higher education system.

According to the 2017 legislation that introduced the ballot measure, the Board of Regents “has, at various times, relied on its constitutional status and its authority to control and manage the affairs of the State University as a defensive shield and cloak against the people’s legislative check of accountability,” and has “taken actions that have hindered, thwarted or undermined the Legislature’s investigation, review and scrutiny of the institutions, programs and operations of the Nevada System of Higher Education.”

The ballot measure would have removed references to the Board of Regents from the Nevada Constitution to ensure that the agency only uses authority derived from statutes passed by the legislature.

Supporters of the measure, like State Assemblyman Jim Wheeler (R), argued, “Question 1 simply makes the Board of Regents a statutory body, subject to checks and balances—an important American principle.” 

Opponents of the measure, like Board of Regents Member Laura E. Perkins, argued, “There’s no numbers or positive proof that the system that may or may not come out of this is better than the system that we have now.”

Questions about legislative control of administrative agencies often involve the nondelegation doctrine, one of five pillars key to understanding the main areas of debate about the nature and scope of the administrative state. The nondelegation doctrine is a legal principle holding that legislative bodies cannot delegate their legislative powers to executive agencies or private entities.

To learn more about the ballot measure or the nondelegation doctrine, see here:

Additional reading:

Text of the resolution:

Assembly Joint Resolution No. 5

Source of Wheeler quote:

Jim Wheeler: Vote for Question 1, reform higher education

Source of Perkins quote:

The Indy Explains: Question 1, a measure that would strike the Board of Regents from the Constitution

Ballotpedia identifies 20 local police-related ballot measures decided Nov. 3

Following the killing of George Floyd on May 25, cities and counties introduced police-related measures. Ballotpedia tracked 20 such measures that appeared on the Nov. 3 ballot. 

All 20 measures were approved or were ahead pending the count of remaining ballots. Note: All vote counts were as of 6:00 p.m. EST on Nov. 11.

Cities and counties that approved these police-related issues in November included:

○ Los Angeles County, California

○ Oakland, California

○ San Diego, California

○ San Francisco, California

○ San Jose, California

○ Sonoma County, California

○ DuPage County, Illinois

○ Akron, Ohio

○ Columbus, Ohio

○ Portland, Oregon

○ Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

○ Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

○ Kyle, Texas

○ King County, Washington

Three notable measures among the 20 were:

Los Angeles County Measure J – This measure requires that no less than 10% of the county’s general fund be appropriated to community programs and alternatives to incarceration. It prohibited the use of those funds for incarceration or law enforcement purposes.

Columbus Issue 2 – This measure created the Civilian Police Review Board to investigate alleged police misconduct, subpoena testimony and evidence during the investigations, make recommendations to the Division of Police, and appoint and manage the new position of Inspector General for the Division of Police. Prior to Nov. 2020, Columbus did not have a police oversight board or commission or an equivalent agency. According to the National Fraternal Order of Police, 20 of the 25 largest city police departments in the U.S. had an oversight board or commission in place as of the beginning of 2020.

Portland Measure 26-217 – This measure amended the city charter to establish a new police oversight board to replace the existing police review board. It allows the new board to subpoena witnesses, request police documents and evidence to investigate complaints made against the Portland Police Bureau, and impose disciplinary actions up to termination of law enforcement professionals. It also authorizes the board to recommend policing policy to the Portland Police Bureau and Portland City Council.

33 committees supporting and opposing Colorado’s 11 November ballot measures raised over $59 million, spent over $57 million

Thirty-three committees registered to support and oppose the eleven measures that appeared on the Nov. 3 ballot in Colorado.

The 33 committees raised $59,164,321.52 and spent $57,392,791.82 according to reports due on November 2 that covered election information through October 28. The next regular reports are due on December 3.

Eight of these 11 measures on the ballot were placed on the ballot through citizen petition drives. These measures concern issues like wolf reintroduction, abortion restrictions, citizenship requirements for voting, a national popular vote, paid medical leave, gambling and taxes. The other three measures were referred to the ballot by the legislature.

The campaigns that raised the most money won in all cases — except Proposition 116 to decrease the state income tax rate, where supporters raised $1.55 million and opponents raised more than double that amount, though that measure was approved by Colorado voters.

Three Colorado ballot measures (Amendment C concerning charitable bingo, Proposition 114 concerning wolves and Proposition 117 concerning state enterprises) were too close to call as of Friday afternoon.

The measure with the highest amount of contributions was Proposition 115, which would have prohibited abortions after 22 weeks of gestational age.
This measure was defeated. Opponents of Proposition 115 raised over $9.5 million, while the proposition’s supporters raised nearly $690,000.

The other top most expensive measures in Colorado in 2020 were:

  • Proposition 118 to create a state-run paid medical and family leave program, which was (approved):
    • Support — $8,918,452.11
    • Opposition — $785,423.2
  • Proposition EE to create a tobacco and vaping products tax to fund health and education programs (approved):
    • Support — $4,711,452.39
    • Opposition — $4,410,902.45
  • Amendment B to repeal the Gallagher Amendment and freeze current property tax rates (approved):
    • Support — $7,311,344.10
    • Opposition — $722,140.10

So far in 2020, Ballotpedia has tracked $1.18 billion in contributions to committees supporting or opposing the 129 statewide measures in 2020. Colorado currently ranks fourth among states with the highest ballot measure campaign contributions, behind California ($739.0 million), Illinois ($121.2 million) and Massachusetts ($61.6 million). These numbers and the total dollar-amount will continue to grow based on post-election campaign finance reports.

The most expensive ballot measure in 2020 was California Proposition 22 concerning app-based drivers and relevant labor policies. A total of $223 million was spent on the measure ($203 million by supporters and $20 million by opponents). The measure was approved.

In 2018, Ballotpedia tracked $1.19 billion in contributions to the ballot measure campaigns supporting and opposing the 167 certified 2018 measures. Campaigns supporting and opposing the 13 statewide ballot measures on the 2018 ballot in Colorado raised $70.4 million, making Colorado the state with the sixth-highest ballot measure campaign contributions in 2018. In the Ballotpedia tracking, California ballot measures were first at $369 million in contributions.

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California voters reject affirmative action proposition

California voters rejected Proposition 16 by a vote of 56% to 44% according to results reported on Nov. 4 at 11:00 am. Proposition 16 would have allowed the use of affirmative action involving race-based or sex-based preferences in California by repealing Proposition 209, passed in 1996, from the California Constitution. Proposition 209 stated that discrimination and preferential treatment were prohibited in public employment, public education, and public contracting on account of a person’s or group’s race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.

California voters reject veto referendum to end cash bail for detained suspects awaiting trial

Voters decided that California will not become the first state to end the use of cash bail for all detained suspects awaiting trials. Proposition 25 was a veto referendum targeting the repeal of Senate Bill 10 (2019), which would have replaced cash bail with risk assessments. Voters rejected SB 10 by a vote of 55% to 44% according to results as of Nov. 4 at 11:00 am.

Washington, D.C. voters approved Initiative 81 76% to 24% according to unofficial election night results

Initiative 81 declares that police shall treat the non-commercial cultivation, distribution, possession, and use of entheogenic plants and fungi as among the lowest law enforcement priorities. Examples of decriminalized substances include psilocybin mushrooms, also known as magic mushrooms or shrooms, peyote, and iboga. This makes D.C. the fifth city after Oakland and Santa Cruz, California; Denver, Colorado; and Ann Arbor, Michigan, to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms.

Oregon is the first state to create a program to legalize psilocybin services after approving Measure 109 in the 2020 election.

Oklahoma voters defeat both statewide ballot measures on the November ballot

Oklahoma voters defeated State Question 805 by a vote of 61% to 39%, thereby maintaining current law that a person convicted of a non-violent felony can receive longer sentences based on past felony convictions.

Voters also defeated State Question 814, by a vote of 59% to 41%. If passed, 814 would have decreased the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust’s funds and would have appropriated money to the state’s Medicaid program.

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