Tagballot measure

Massachusetts Ranked-Choice Voting Initiative submits second round of signatures ahead of July 1 deadline

On June 17, Voter Choice Massachusetts, which is sponsoring the Massachusetts Ranked-Choice Voting Initiative, announced that it had submitted 25,000 signatures to city and town clerks. For this second round, 13,374 valid signatures are required to qualify for the November ballot.

The initiative would enact ranked-choice voting for elections in Massachusetts, excluding presidential electors, county commissioners, and regional district school committees, as well as elections in caucuses. As of June 2020, Maine was the only state to have adopted and implemented ranked-choice voting at the state level.

RCV is a voting method in which voters rank candidates according to their preferences. A candidate that receives a majority of first-preference votes is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated, and votes are redistributed in rounds until one candidate has a majority.

Citizens of Massachusetts may initiate legislation through the process of indirect initiative. A first round of signatures equal to 3 percent of the votes cast for governor is required to put an initiative before the legislature. A second round of signatures equal to 0.5 percent of the votes cast for governor in the last election is required to put the measure on the ballot if the legislature rejects or declines to act on a proposed initiated statute.

Campaigns for 2020 Massachusetts initiatives needed to submit 80,239 signatures for the first round by November 20, 2019. Voter Choice Massachusetts submitted 111,268 valid signatures to the Secretary of State. Since the state legislature did not enact the law by May 5, 2020, the campaign moved on to the second round of signature gathering to place the initiative on the November ballot. The campaign needed to submit 13,374 valid signatures by July 1, 2020.

In April 2020, Voter Choice Massachusetts and the other three campaigns gathering a second round of signatures for proposed initiatives—Massachusetts “Right to Repair” Initiative, the Nursing Homes Medicaid Ratemaking Initiative, and the Beer and Wine in Food Stores Initiative—filed a joint lawsuit challenging the state’s prohibition of electronic signatures. The lawsuit argued that the restrictions in place due to the coronavirus pandemic inhibited their right to petition the government. The four campaigns and Secretary of State William Galvin agreed to a resolution that allowed the campaigns to gather the second round of signatures electronically and remotely through mail or email.

In the press release from Voter Choice Massachusetts, Cara Brown McCormick, a senior advisor to the campaign, said, “This was the first electronic signature drive to get a citizen’s initiative on the ballot in American history. Together we gathered signatures at a rate of one every two minutes for 40 days in a row, and were fortunate to be able to do the whole drive while keeping everyone safe.”

Between 1996 and 2018, about 54 percent (21 of 39) of the total number of measures that appeared on statewide ballots in Massachusetts were approved, and about 46 percent (18 of 39) were defeated.

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Colorado to vote on repeal of Gallagher Amendment

The Colorado Legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the 2020 ballot that would repeal the Gallagher Amendment of 1982. The Gallagher Amendment limits the residential and non-residential property tax assessment rates so that residential property tax revenue equals 45% of the total share of state property tax revenue and non-residential property tax revenue equals 55% of the total share of state property tax revenue.

Under the Gallagher Amendment, property tax assessment rates were initially set in the state constitution to be 29% for non-residential property and 21% for residential property. The residential assessment rate was adjusted every two years so as to maintain the 45%-55% split between the total share of property tax revenue. The current residential property tax assessment rate is 7.15%.

The legislature also passed a companion bill, Senate Bill 20-223, which would take effect if voters approve the constitutional amendment. Senate Bill 223 would prohibit the legislature from changing assessment rates for property, thereby freezing the current rates of 7.15% for residential property and 29% for non-residential property. Under the Gallagher Amendment, property tax assessment rates were expected to decrease. Therefore, removing the Gallagher Amendment and freezing property tax rates at current levels was expected to result in higher residential assessment rates than under the Gallagher Amendment.

The amendment was introduced in the Senate on June 1, 2020. The measure’s primary sponsors were Senators Jack Tate (R) and Chris Hansen (D) and Representatives Daneya Esgar (D) and Matt Soper (R). The measure was passed by the Senate on June 9 in a vote of 27-7 and was passed by the House in a vote of 51-14 on June 12, 2020. All no votes came from Republican legislators.

Coloradans are set to vote on a total of eight ballot measures in November. However, the state legislature passed a bill that would delay one of the measures, a transportation bond issue, to the 2021 ballot if signed by Governor Jared Polis (D).

In addition, 14 citizen initiatives have been cleared for signature gathering in Colorado with signatures due by August 3 to qualify for the 2020 ballot.

Voters in California will decide a ballot initiative to enact new dialysis clinic requirements

Californians will vote on a ballot initiative related to dialysis clinics for the second general election in a row unless the proposal is withdrawn. On June 15, the office of California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that enough signatures were collected for a dialysis clinic-related ballot initiative to appear on the November 3 ballot. Proponents filed 1.01 million signatures in April. At least 623,212 of the signatures needed to be valid. Based on random samples, an estimated 739,326 signatures were valid.

The ballot initiative would require chronic dialysis clinics to: have an on-site physician while patients are being treated; report data on dialysis-related infections; obtain consent from the state health department before closing a clinic; and not discriminate against patients based on the source of payment for care.

In 2018, voters rejected a ballot initiative, titled Proposition 8, that would have required dialysis clinics to refund patients (or their insurers) for profits above a certain threshold. Proposition 8 was the most expensive ballot measure of 2018, with campaign committees receiving a combined $130.43 million. Opponents raised 85 percent ($111.48 million) of the $130.43 million. Contributors to the opposition campaign included DaVita ($67.03 million), Fresenius Medical Care North America (33.98 million), and U.S. Renal Care ($8.18 million). Supporters raised $18.94 million, with $17.87 million coming from the SEIU-UHW West.

Based on the most recent campaign finance filings on March 31, the conflict surrounding the union’s new ballot initiative involves the same organizations as Proposition 8. The SEIU-UHW West has raised $5.91 million. Opponents have raised $2.02 million, with DaVita and Fresenius each providing $1.01 million.

The ballot initiative is the seventh to qualify for the November 2020 ballot in California. The deadline for signature verification is June 25. Two ballot initiatives are currently undergoing a random sample of signatures. The California State Legislature also has until June 25 to refer measures to the general election ballot.

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Georgians to vote in November on waiving state’s sovereign immunity

The Georgia State Legislature on Tuesday gave final approval to House Resolution 1023, sending it to the November 2020 ballot. The measure would allow residents to seek declaratory relief from state or local laws that are found to violate the U.S. Constitution, state Constitution, or state law. Under the amendment, a court could not award damages, attorney’s fees, or other costs of litigation unless authorized by the state legislature. After granting declaratory judgment, a court would be able to block the law or act in question. If approved, the amendment would waive the state’s sovereign immunity for any acts occurring on or after January 1, 2021.

This amendment was sponsored by Republican Representative Andrew Welch. On February 20, 2020, the state House passed HR 1023 unanimously. On June 15, 2020, the state Senate unanimously approved an amended version of the measure, which was then approved unanimously in the House on June 16, 2020.

One other constitutional amendment is also set to appear on the statewide ballot in Georgia this November. The amendment would authorize the Georgia State Legislature to pass legislation establishing special funds with dedicated revenue sources to fund statute specific projects. Statutes that impose such taxes and fees would need to reference the amendment and identify the government agency responsible for administering the revenue in its text.

The state legislature reconvened its session on June 15 after it had been suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The legislative session is limited to 40 legislative days and, as of Wednesday, there were eight days left of the legislative session.

From 1996 to 2018, 81 measures were on the ballot in Georgia. Of the total, 84% (68 of 81) were approved and 16% (13 of 81) were defeated.

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Maine Republican Party files signatures for veto referendum to repeal ranked-choice voting for presidential elections

On June 15, signatures were filed for a veto referendum to repeal Maine LD 1803, which established ranked-choice voting for presidential elections. Under LD 1803, Maine is slated to use ranked-choice voting to elect the president for the first time on November 3, 2020.

The Maine Republican Party led the signature-gathering efforts for the veto referendum. Demi Kouzounas, chairperson of the Maine Republican Party, filed the veto referendum on February 3, 2020. Proponents needed to collect 63,067 valid signatures. The office of Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced that proponents reported filing 68,000 signatures. Dunlap’s office has 30 days (from June 15) to review the signatures. The measure would appear on the November ballot.

A successful signature drive would suspend the law until voters decide the law’s fate, meaning ranked-choice voting would not be used for the presidential election on November 3, 2020.

LD 1803 was passed by the legislature on August 26, 2019. Gov. Janet Mills (D) said she would hold LD 1083 until the following year. By holding the bill until the next legislative session, LD 1083 did not go into effect until after the state’s presidential primary election on March 3, 2020.

The veto referendum would be the third ranked-choice voting ballot measure in Maine since 2016. Voters approved Question 5, which established a first-in-the-nation statewide system of ranked-choice voting, in 2016. In 2017, the legislature passed a bill that was written to postpone and repeal ranked-choice voting unless the legislature referred and voters approved a constitutional amendment. The Committee for Ranked-Choice Voting, which sponsored Question 5, launched a veto referendum campaign to overturn LD 1646. On the ballot as Question 1, the veto referendum was approved with 53.9 percent of the vote. Therefore, LD 1646 was repealed and ranked-choice voting remained in effect, except for general elections for state legislative and executive offices.

At the election on November 6, 2018, ranked-choice voting (RCV) was used for the first time in a general election. Both Sen. Angus King (I) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) won their respective seats without the need for ranked-choice tabulations. In the 2nd congressional district, the initial vote count showed that incumbent Bruce Poliquin (R) had received 46.3 percent of the vote, and challenger Jared Golden (D) had received 45.6 percent of the vote. Independents received 8.1 percent of the vote. On November 15, 2018, Dunlap announced that after the lowest vote-getters were eliminated and votes were reallocated, incumbent Rep. Poliquin received 49.4 percent of the vote, and challenger Golden received 50.6 percent of the vote. The race was the first in U.S. history where ranked-choice voting was used to decide a congressional election.

Voters in Alaska and Massachusetts could also decide ranked-choice voting ballot measures in November. In Alaska, a measure is certified for the ballot that would, among other policies, establish ranked-choice voting for general elections. In Massachusetts, a ranked-choice voting campaign is expected to file a second round of signatures before the deadline on July 1, 2020.

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Colorado Legislature gives final approval to a charitable bingo and raffles amendment and a cigarette tax increase measure

On Monday, the Colorado State Legislature sent two measures to the November 2020 ballot.

One measure would amend the state constitution to require charitable organizations to have existed for three years before obtaining a charitable gaming license instead of the current constitutional requirement of five years. The amendment would allow charitable organizations to hire managers and operators of gaming activities so long as they are not paid more than the minimum wage. Currently, the constitution requires those who operate charitable gaming activities to be a member of the organization working as an unpaid volunteer.

The other measure would increase cigarette taxes and create a new tax on nicotine products such as e-cigarettes. It would dedicate revenues to various health and education programs. The measure requires voter approval under TABOR since it would increase state revenue. The TABOR Amendment requires voter approval for all new taxes, tax rate increases, extensions of expiring taxes, mill levy increases, valuation for property assessment increases, or tax policy changes resulting in increased tax revenue. The Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights was passed in 1992 as Initiative 1 by a vote of 53.68% to 46.32%. The measure was spearheaded by Colorado activist Douglas Bruce (R). TABOR limits the amount of money the state of Colorado can take in and spend. It limits the annual increase for some state revenue to inflation plus the percentage change in state population. Any money collected above this limit is refunded to taxpayers unless the voters allow the state to spend it.

Currently, in Colorado, cigarettes are taxed at a base rate of one cent per cigarette. The measure would incrementally increase the per-cigarette base tax rate as follows:
  1. 6.5 cents per cigarette from January 1, 2021, to July 1, 2024;
  2. 8 cents per cigarette from July 1, 2024, to July 1, 2027; and
  3. 10 cents per cigarette after July 1, 2027.

Additionally, Amendment 35 of 2004 authorized an additional tax of 3.2 cents per cigarette. Revenues from this additional voter-approved tax are exempt from the TABOR limit.

With the addition of these two measures, Coloradans are set to vote on a total of eight ballot measures in November. However, the state legislature passed a bill that would delay one of the measures, a transportation bond issue, to the 2021 ballot if signed by Governor Jared Polis (D).

A measure to repeal the Gallagher Amendment of 1982 was also referred to the 2020 ballot by the legislature. The Gallagher Amendment limits the residential and non-residential property tax assessment rates so that residential property taxes equal 45% of the total share of state property taxes and non-residential property taxes equal 55% of the total share of state property taxes. The measure was passed by the Senate on June 9 in a vote of 27-7 and was passed by the House in a vote of 51-14 on June 12, 2020.

Fourteen citizen initiatives have been cleared for signature gathering in Colorado with signatures due by August 3 to qualify for the 2020 ballot.

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Proponents of a veto referendum in Washington file signatures to repeal a bill requiring comprehensive sexual health education in public schools

Parents for Safe Schools, sponsors of Referendum 90, submitted 266,000 signatures to the Washington Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday. To qualify the referendum for the November ballot,129,811 of the signatures must be valid.

Referendum 90 petitioners seek to repeal Senate Bill 5395, which was signed by Governor Jay Inslee (D) on March 27, 2020. Senate Bill 3395, sponsored by Senator Claire Wilson (D), vice-chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, was passed in the State House on March 4 along party lines with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans voting against. It passed in the Senate along party lines on March 7, except one Democrat, Tim Sheldon, joined all Senate Republicans in voting no. The bill is on hold pending the verification of signatures, and if placed on the ballot, the result of the election.

Senate Bill 5395 would require public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education to students in grades 6-12 beginning in the 2021-22 school year and for all public school students, including those in grades K-5, beginning in the 2022-23 school year. The curriculum would have to include instruction and information regarding affirmative consent and bystander training. Sexual health education would need to be provided at least once to students in grades K-3, once to students in grades 4-5, twice to students in grades 6-8, and twice to students in grades 9-12. Sexual health education would not be required to be integrated into unrelated subjects or courses.

Under SB 5395, comprehensive sexual health education means “recurring instruction in human development and reproduction that is age-appropriate and inclusive of all students.” Course materials would need to be medically and scientifically accurate, meaning the information has been verified or supported by scientific research, has been published in peer-reviewed journals, and is recognized as accurate by organizations such as the Washington State Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Under the bill, schools would be required to notify parents that they are providing comprehensive sexual health education and make all course materials accessible to the parents. Parents could file a written request with the school district or the school’s principal to excuse their child from sexual health education instruction. School districts would be required to grant such requests.

SB 5395 sponsor Sen. Claire Wilson (D) said, “Some people hear the words ‘sex education’ and mistake the focus of the curriculum, which is health and safety, and is age-appropriate for each grade level. This is about making sure younger children know what kind of touching is inappropriate, whether by peers or predators. It’s about helping older students recognize and resist abusive or coercive behavior. It’s about teaching all children to respect diversity and not to bully others. Students need a safe place to ask questions, to fully understand consent, and to have the information they need to make safe decisions.”

Parents for Safe Schools said SB 5395 “mandates graphic sex education starting in elementary school” and “orders school districts to ‘comprehensively’ include sex ed in all curriculum — including math, social studies, science, business and computer classes. … Keep the Olympia activists out of our classrooms. Parents and elected local school boards should be the only people deciding what is taught in our classrooms.”

The Washington State Catholic Conference, which opposes SB 5395, said, “The law requires ‘affirmative consent curriculum’ defined as ‘a conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity as a requirement before sexual activity.’ This requirement is not in accordance with church teaching that sexual activity be reserved for marriage. Parents can opt their children out of classroom instruction, but they cannot opt them out of school yard discussions and the culture change that may take place at school.”

Parents for Safe Schools had raised $158,903 according to the most recent reports available on June 11, 2020. The largest donor was The Reagan Fund, which is the name of the Washington State House Republican Leadership PAC.

Since the first in 1914, Washington voters have decided 38 statewide veto referendum measures at the ballot. Opponents of laws targeted for repeal collect signatures for veto referendum petitions hoping that voters will repeal the laws at the ballot. The most recent veto referendum, Referendum 88, was on the ballot in Washington in 2019. Voters rejected the targeted law, Initiative 1000. In 81.6% of cases (31 of 38), veto referendums resulted in the targeted bill being repealed. Conversely, 18.4% (seven of 37) of veto referendum measures resulted in the targeted law being upheld.

Between 1906 and 2019, 522 veto referendums appeared on the ballot in 23 states. Voters repealed 341 (65.3%) of the targeted laws. Voters upheld 181 (34.7 percent) of the targeted laws. The states with the most veto referendums were North Dakota (75), Oregon (68), and California (48).
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Atlanta voters approve measure to reauthorize 1% sales tax to fund water and sewer projects

Voters in Atlanta, Georgia, approved a measure Tuesday reauthorizing the city to levy the 1% Municipal Option Sales Tax (MOST). With 89 precincts reporting, the vote was 71% in favor to 29% against.

Going into the election, the city levied a 1% sales tax that was set to expire on September 30, 2020. This measure was designed to allow the city of Atlanta to renew the 1% sales tax for four years in order to raise $750 million to fund water and sewer projects. The measure was put on the ballot through a vote of the Atlanta City Council.

The city of Atlanta said the MOST tax is “a 1-cent tax that applies to most goods purchased in the City of Atlanta. These funds allow visitors and business people who use the city’s water and sewer infrastructure but do not pay city water/sewer bills to help pay for upgrading and maintenance of the infrastructure. … The city estimates that Atlanta’s already high water/sewer rates would have to increase by 25 to 30 percent without the MOST.”

The original 1% sales tax was in place from October 1, 2004, through September 30, 2008, and was used to partially fund Atlanta water and sewer projects. Voters approved measures to renew the tax for additional four-year periods in 2008, 2012, and 2016.

Reclaim Idaho filed a lawsuit seeking more time to gather signatures and permission to use electronic signatures

Reclaim Idaho, sponsors of the Idaho Income Tax Increases for Education Funding Initiative, filed a lawsuit against Governor Brad Little (R) and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney (R) seeking a preliminary injunction to grant the campaign 48 more days to gather signatures and temporary permission to use electronic signatures. The campaign announced on March 18 that it was suspending its signature drive. The 48-day extension equals the number of days between the date the campaign suspended its signature drive and the original May 1 signature deadline.

The campaign argued in the lawsuit, which was filed in the District Court of Idaho, that the restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus made it impossible for the campaign to collect signatures, and therefore the state violated the petitioners’ First Amendment rights to petition the government. In announcing the lawsuit, Reclaim Idaho said, “We don’t object to the Governor’s actions to protect public health. But the Governor and Secretary of State have a responsibility to provide alternative, safe means for collecting signatures during a deadly pandemic. We should not be forced to choose between public safety and our First Amendment rights to petition our government.”

The measure was designed to increase the income tax rate for individuals with incomes above $250,000, increase the corporate income tax rate, and create and fund the Quality Education Fund.

No Idaho initiative campaigns submitted signatures by the May 1 deadline. Two other ballot measures—the Minimum Wage Increase Initiative and the Medical Marijuana Initiative—cleared for signature gathering by the Idaho Secretary of State. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, both campaigns announced that they were suspending their signature drives prior to the signature deadline.

At least 14 lawsuits challenging ballot measure deadlines and requirements were filed in 11 of the 26 states that permit statewide initiative and/or referendum processes. The subjects of the lawsuits include the use of electronic signatures, notarization requirements, signature deadlines, and signature requirements.

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Florida Supreme Court rules that the ballot summary for the Ban on Semiautomatic Rifles and Shotguns Initiative is misleading

In 4-1 decision, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the ballot summary of the Ban on Semiautomatic Rifles and Shotguns Initiative was misleading. Ban Assault Weapons NOW is sponsoring the measure targeting the 2022 ballot.

The measure would ban possession of semiautomatic rifles and shotguns, with certain exceptions involving registration requirements. The measure would define Semiautomatic as “any weapon which fires a single projectile or a number of ball shots through a rifled or smooth bore for each single function of the trigger without further manual action required.” Assault weapon would be defined by the measure as “any semiautomatic rifle or shotgun capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition at once, either in a fixed or detachable magazine, or any other ammunition feeding device.” If a person lawfully owned an assault weapon before the measure’s effective date, their ownership of such weapon would still be legal (a) for one year after the measure’s effective date or (b) after the owner registers the weapon by make, model, and serial number with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Records of such registration would be available for federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

On July 26, 2019, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) filed a motion with the state supreme court arguing the measure’s ballot language was misleading and unclear and that the initiative should be blocked from the ballot. Moody argued, “The ballot title and summary do not inform Florida’s electorate that virtually every lawful owner of a semi-automatic long-gun will be forced to register with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, or that this registry would be available to all local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Nor do the ballot title and summary state the time within which preexisting long-gun owners must register their firearms that meet the proposed amendment’s definition of ‘assault weapon’ and avail themselves of the amendment’s grandfathering provision.”

In its decision released on June 4, the Florida Supreme Court agreed with Moody. The court wrote, “While the ballot summary purports to exempt registered assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to the Initiative’s effective date, the Initiative does not categorically exempt the assault weapon, only the current owner’s possession of that assault weapon. The ballot summary is therefore affirmatively misleading.” Judge Jorge Labarga dissented arguing that the 75-word limit was not enough to provide every detail of the initiative but that the ballot summary was still clear.”

Gail Schwartz, the chair of Ban Assault Weapons NOW, released a statement in response to the court’s ruling that said, “The Supreme Court, now controlled by the NRA in the same way as our Governor and our Legislature, has fundamentally failed the people of Florida. Not only has the Legislature recently made it harder to pass ballot initiatives, now the people must also face a Court of rightwing ideologues who will only approve initiatives they agree with politically.”

According to the Florida Secretary of State’s website, Ban Assault Weapons NOW had submitted 174,564 valid signatures. In order to obtain a spot on the 2022 ballot, proponents of the initiative would need to begin the process again with an amended ballot summary.

The total number of signatures required for an initiated constitutional amendment to qualify for the ballot is equal to 8% of the votes cast in the preceding presidential election. Florida also has a signature distribution requirement, which requires that signatures equaling at least 8% of the district-wide vote in the last presidential election be collected from at least half (14) of the state’s 27 congressional districts.

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