Tagballot measures

Voters approved 62 constitutional amendments in 29 states in 2020

Every state but Delaware requires voters to ratify proposed changes to a state’s constitution.

There are four ways that proposed constitutional amendments can be proposed and put on the ballot:

  • Through legislatively referred constitutional amendments.
  • Through citizen-initiated constitutional amendments put on the ballot through signature petition drives. Eighteen states allow this method of amendment.
  • Through referral by constitutional conventions. In some states, automatic ballot referrals allow voters to decide at regular intervals whether or not to hold a convention.
  • In Florida, there is a commission-referred amendment process through the Constitution Revision Commission that meets every 20 years. It last met in 2018.

From 2006 through 2020 a total of 1,016 constitutional amendments were proposed and put before voters. This data only includes constitutional amendments put on the ballot for a statewide vote. It does not include certain state constitutional amendments that only apply to local jurisdictions and were voted on only by residents of particular local jurisdictions. It also does not include constitutional amendments in Delaware that weren’t subject to voter ratification. Of this total, voters approved 733 proposed changes to state constitutions.

In 2020, voters in 29 states decided a total of 84 constitutional amendments. Of the 84 proposed amendments, state legislatures referred 69 to the ballot, and signature petition drives were used to initiate the other 15. Of the 84 amendments, 62 (73.8%) were approved.

Since 2006, the even-numbered year with the most proposed amendments on the ballot was 2006 with 148, and the year with the least amount of proposals was 2020, which had 84 proposals. The average in even-numbered years since 2006 was 109.

Among states with a process for initiated constitutional amendments, Florida and Colorado featured the most proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot from 2006 through 2020, with a total of 56 and 52, respectively. Of that total, Florida voters approved 37, and Colorado voters approved 21. Among all 50 states, Louisiana featured the most proposed constitutional amendments and the most approved amendments.

States featured an average of 20 constitutional amendments on the ballot from 2006 through 2020. Across all states, an average of 15 amendments were approved. Statistically, from 2006 through 2020, off-year election cycles featured a higher approval rate for proposed constitutional amendments than even years. In 2007, 28 of the 31 proposed amendments were approved, for a rate of 90%. In 2013, amendments passed at a rate of 89%. In 2017, all 17 amendments on the ballot were approved, for the highest approval rate since 1947. In contrast, 2006 and 2020 had the highest approval rates of even-numbered years since 2006 at 74.5%and 73.8%, respectively.

Pennsylvania voters could decide as many as eight constitutional amendments in 2021 or 2022

In Pennsylvania, the average number of statewide ballot measures for a single year is less than 1. In 2021 or 2022, Pennsylvanians could vote on upwards of eight ballot measures that address electoral and voting policies, legal language and actions, and the governor’s emergency powers.

For an amendment to appear on a statewide ballot the legislature needs to approve it during two legislative sessions, with the final vote taking place at least three months before the election. Amendments can appear on the ballot at the spring primary election or the general election.

During the 2019-2020 legislative session, the state legislature passed eight constitutional amendments. Legislators are required to pass the amendments again during the 2021-2022 legislative session before electors can vote on ratification. An amendment must receive a simple majority vote in each legislative chamber. If partisan control of a legislative chamber changes, the two-session requirement can decrease the likelihood of any amendments that were approved along party lines from receiving a final, second-session vote. Republicans controlled both chambers of the state legislature during the 2019-2020 legislative session. Republicans kept control of the legislature following the election on November 3, 2020. The governor’s signature is not part of the process of placing constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Two of the constitutional amendments passed with nearly unanimous support from Democratic and Republican legislators (one Republican voted against the proposals). 

  • Eliminate Separate Ballot Requirement for Judicial Retention Elections Amendment: The ballot measure would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to eliminate the requirement that judicial retention elections appear on a separate ballot (or in a separate column on voting machines) from other elections.
  • No-Excuse Absentee Voting Amendment: The ballot measure would amend constitutional language to state that no election law can require voters to physically appear at a polling place on election day. It would also remove the list of excuses related to receiving an absentee ballot.

A third amendment had bipartisan support in the legislature but was rejected by five Democrats and 16 Republicans. 

  • Childhood Sexual Abuse Retroactive Lawsuits for Two-Year Period Amendment: The ballot measure would create a two-year period in which persons can file civil suits arising from childhood sexual abuse that would otherwise be considered outside the statute of limitations.

A fourth amendment had the support of most Republicans (two dissents) and about two-fifths of Democrats.

  • Lieutenant Governor Selection Amendment: In Pennsylvania, a political party’s candidates for governor and lieutenant governor are elected on a joint ticket at the general election. As of 2020, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run in separate primaries for their party’s nomination and then form a joint ticket. The ballot measure would allow a political party’s candidate for governor to choose their own candidate for lieutenant governor. The ballot measure would provide that political parties may approve or reject their gubernatorial candidate’s pick for lieutenant governor.

The remaining four constitutional amendments were passed as a package and mostly along party lines. All Republicans supported the legislation, while 9 percent of legislative Democrats supported the package.

  • Equal Rights Regardless of Race or Ethnicity Amendment: The ballot measure would add the following section to the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Declaration of Rights: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania because of the race or ethnicity of the individual.”
  • Districts for State Supreme, Superior, and Commonwealth Court Elections Amendment: The ballot measure would change how voters elect justices and judges of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the Pennsylvania Superior Court, and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. As of 2020, justices and judges of these courts are elected statewide. The ballot measure would provide for justices and judges to be elected from representative districts, which the Pennsylvania General Assembly would be responsible for establishing
  • Governor’s Emergency Declaration Amendment: The ballot measure would define the governor’s power to use executive orders to declare emergencies, allow the state legislature to pass laws related to how emergencies must be managed, and limit a governor-issued emergency declaration to 21 days unless extended by a vote of the legislature.
  • Legislative Resolution to Extend or Terminate Emergency Declaration Amendment: The ballot measure would allow the Pennsylvania General Assembly to pass a resolution extending or terminating an emergency declaration issued by the governor.

Since 1995, a total of 17 measures appeared on statewide ballots in Pennsylvania, and voters approved all of them. 

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Two tax-related ballot initiative campaigns submitted signatures in Nevada 

December 8 was the deadline for counties to certify signatures for 2022 citizen-initiated statutes to the Nevada Secretary of State. Campaigns behind the Gaming Fee Increase on Monthly Revenue above $250,000 Initiative (S-01-2020) and the Sales Tax Increase for Public Schools Initiative (S-02-2020) submitted over 200,000 signatures each to county officials on November 17.

Citizens of Nevada may initiate statutes through the process of indirect initiative. The required number of valid signatures for initiative petitions is 97,598, which equals 10% of the total number of votes cast in the preceding general election. Nevada is one of 16 states that impose distribution requirements for initiative petitions. Of the 97,598 valid signatures needed, 24,400 signatures are required to be collected in each congressional district.

Once sufficient signatures have been collected, statutory initiatives are first presented to the Nevada State Legislature. If approved by the legislature and signed by the governor, the proposed statute becomes law. If not, the law is submitted to voters at the next general election. However, upon the governor’s approval, the legislature may propose an alternative statute to voters. The 2021 legislative session will begin on February 1, 2021.

The Gaming Fee Increase on Monthly Revenue above $250,000 Initiative would increase the rate of the gaming fee on monthly gross revenue above $250,000 to 9.75%. Currently, there are tiered fee rates ranging from 3.5% to 6.75% depending on the amount of monthly gross revenue. The existing maximum rate—which is charged on monthly gross revenue above $134,000—is 6.75%. 

Robert Hollowood filed this initiative with the Nevada Secretary of State on January 13, 2020. In February 2020, the Nevada Resort Association challenged the ballot language submitted by initiative sponsors. They argued that January 1, 2023, will not be the date of effect as stated in the petition, and the funds raised by the increased fee are not solely dedicated to public education. On March 13, Judge James Wilson ruled in favor of the Nevada Resort Association requiring the initiative sponsors to change the effective date and clarify that revenue from the fee would go into the general fund. The sponsors submitted amended ballot language on March 30 to the Nevada Secretary of State. The new effective date if approved by the legislature is July 1, 2021, and the new effective date if approved by voters in 2022 is November 22, 2022.

The Sales Tax Increase for Public Schools Initiative would increase the state’s Local School Support Tax from 2.25% to 3.75%. Including the Local School Support Tax, the total statewide sales and use tax rate in Nevada as of January 1, 2020, was 6.85%. Local sales tax rates vary, creating a range of total existing sales tax rates in Nevada from 6.85% to 8.265%. 

Kenny Belknap filed this initiative with the Nevada Secretary of State on January 15, 2020. In February 2020, BizPac, the political action committee of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, challenged the ballot language submitted by initiative petitioners. The plaintiffs argued that the description of the initiative was misleading because it did not provide the total new sales tax rate. On March 13, Judge James T. Russell ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and issued an injunction requiring the initiative petitioners to resubmit the ballot summary to include the proposed total sales tax rate. The initiative sponsors submitted an amended initiative on March 24.

Campaigns behind the Top-Two Primary Initiative and the Parental Notification for Minor’s Abortion Initiative did not submit signatures by the deadline. The initiatives would have, respectively, established a top-two open primary system for all elected partisan offices and required that parents or guardians of minors seeking an abortion to be notified 48 hours before the procedure.

Protect Our Girls, the campaign behind the Parental Notification for Minor’s Abortion Initiative, filed a lawsuit asking for an extension of the November 18 deadline for signature submission due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and related restrictions. On October 21 Federal District Court Judge Miranda Du dismissed the lawsuit.

In 2020, Ballotpedia tracked the following changes to ballot measure campaigns, procedures, and policies in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic:

  1. 27 initiative petition campaigns that abandoned or suspended signature-gathering efforts in 2020;
  2. at least 19 lawsuits filed over signature deadlines and regulations;
  3. four campaigns that shifted their focus to future elections; and
  4. multiple changes to campaign activity and tactics, alteration of rules for signature collection by executive or legislative action, and uses of remote or electronic signature gathering.

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Signatures filed for 2022 veto referendum to repeal California’s ban on flavored tobacco product sales

In California, a campaign committee funded by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Philip Morris USA filed signatures for a veto referendum to repeal the state’s law banning the sale of flavored tobacco products and tobacco product flavor enhancers. The targeted bill includes an exception for hookah tobacco. If 623,212 signatures are found to be valid, then the law will be suspended until voters decide it at the election on November 8, 2022. The law was passed in August 2020 and was designed to go into effect on January 1, 2021. As of December 7, the secretary of state had reported that 758,468 signatures were filed, but raw counts were still needed from several counties, including Riverside, San Diego, and Ventura.

The campaign behind the veto referendum is called the California Coalition for Fairness, which, according to campaign communications director Beth Miller, is sponsored by tobacco manufacturers. Through the most recently filed reports (November 3), the California Coalition for Fairness had received $21.1 million, including $10.4 million from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, $9.8 million from Philip Morris USA, $500,000 from ITG Brands, and $500,000 from Swedish Match North America. In a press release, the campaign stated, “We agree that youth should never have access to any tobacco products, but this can be achieved without imposing a total prohibition on products that millions of adults choose to use. This law goes too far and is unfair, particularly since lawmakers have exempted hookah, expensive cigars and flavored pipe tobacco from the prohibition. Moreover, a prohibition will hurt small, local businesses and jobs as products are pushed from licensed, conscientious retailers to an underground market, leading to increased youth access, crime and other social or criminal justice concerns for many California residents.”

State Sen. Gerald Hill (D-13), who sponsored the law banning flavored tobacco product sales, responded to the veto referendum, saying, “California fought Big Tobacco and won. This shameless industry is a sore loser and it is relentless. It wants to keep killing people with its candy-, fruit-, mint- and menthol-flavored poison. The adults who are hooked on nicotine aren’t enough for Big Tobacco; it wants our kids too.” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who signed the law on August 28, 2020, stated, “This is Big Tobacco’s latest attempt to profit at the expense of our kids’ health.”

California was the fifth state to pass a law banning the sale of flavored tobacco products. The others are Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. If the veto referendum appears on the ballot, California voters will be the first electorate to vote on a ban. In 2018, voters in San Francisco approved a ballot measure banning the sale of flavored tobacco products.

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Support and opposition campaigns surrounding Missouri Amendment 3 raised $7.9 million in contributions

Missouri Amendment 3 was approved with a margin of 51% to 49%. Amendment 3 eliminated the nonpartisan state demographer created by Amendment 1 (2018); returned the state to the use of bipartisan commissions appointed by the governor for legislative redistricting; altered the criteria used to draw district maps; and changed limits on state senate campaign finance and lobbyists’ gifts.

Support and opposition campaigns surrounding Amendment 3 reported $7.9 million in combined contributions and $7.8 million in expenditures. 

There were two committees registered in support of Amendment 3: Fair Missouri and Missouri Farm Bureau Fund for Real Representation. Together, they raised over $308,000. The top donors that contributed over $10,000 were the Republican State Committee ($200,000) and Missouri Alliance for Freedom ($41,000).

In addition to the committees formed to campaign in support of Amendment 3, six other political action committees made a combined $36,977.91 in independent expenditures supporting the measure. They are listed below:

  • Missouri Right to Life PAC: $2,325.26
  • Republicans of Pike County: $131.66
  • Missouri Farm Bureau Federation State PAC: $9,961.50
  • Don’t Tread on MO PAC: $18,758.00
  • Missouri Federation of College Republicans: $325.00
  • Northwest Missouri Conservatives PAC: $5,476.49

Clean Missouri, the sponsor of the 2018 amendment, registered in opposition to Amendment 3. It reported $7.5 million in contributions. The top donors to the committee were the National Education Association ($1.5 million), Action Now Initiative ($1.4 million), North Fund ($1.2 million), Open Society ($500,000), and Strategic Victory Fund ($500,000).

Campaigns supporting and opposing the 2018 amendment, which Amendment 3 reversed, reported nearly $6 million in contributions. In 2018, Clean Missouri received $4.7 million in contributions. The Action Now Initiative and the National Education Association were the top two donors to Clean Missouri in 2018 as well.

As of November 16, committees registered to support or oppose 2020 statewide measures reported a combined total of $1.19 billion in contributions and $994.1 million in expenditures so far.

The following five states have the most ballot measure campaign contributions reported so far:

  • California – $739.0 million in contributions
  • Illinois – $121.2 million in contributions
  • Massachusetts – $61.6 million in contributions
  • Colorado – $59.2 million in contributions
  • Arizona – $33.6 million in contributions

Signature deadline for 2021 Initiatives to the Legislature in Washington is Dec. 31

The signature deadline for 2021 Washington Initiatives to the Legislature (ITL) is December 31, 2020. Initiative to the Legislature is the name of indirect initiated state statutes in the state of Washington. For an ITL to be taken up by the Washington State Legislature and potentially put on the ballot in 2021, proponents must submit 259,622 valid signatures to the Secretary of State by December 31.

Upon signature verification, these initiatives go before the Washington Legislature at the regular session set to begin on January 11, 2021. 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, of which, 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.

As of December 4, 2020, 183 ITLs had been filed by 13 sponsors, of which 117 had been withdrawn. The proposed initiatives concern topics including taxes, sex education, sports betting, and affirmative action.

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 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.

Voters in four states decided five measures concerning direct democracy Nov. 3

Voters in Florida and North Dakota rejected measures that would have required approval at two consecutive elections for constitutional amendments to be ratified.

Florida Amendment 4 was designed to require constitutional amendments to be approved by voters at two successive general elections to become effective. Going into the election, in Florida, if voters approve an amendment at one general election, it becomes part of the constitution. In Florida, constitutional amendments require a supermajority vote to become effective. This requirement was added to the constitution in 2006. The supermajority requirement would have applied to both elections if Amendment 4 was approved. The measure was rejected by a vote of 47.5% in favor to 52.5% against.

North Dakota Constitutional Measure 2 would have required initiated constitutional amendments passed by voters to be submitted to the legislature for approval. If the legislature did not approve the amendment, Measure 2 would have required amendments to be placed on the ballot again at the next statewide election to become effective if approved by the voters a second time. Measure 2 was rejected by a vote of 38% in favor to 62% against.

Nevada is the only state where initiated constitutional amendments must be approved at two consecutive elections. This does not apply to legislatively referred constitutional amendments, which must be approved twice by the legislature (with a majority vote) but only once by the state’s voters. Since the pass-it-twice requirement was created in 1962, there have been 14 citizen-initiated constitutional amendments that passed at the first election and appeared on the ballot again at the next election. Of the 14 measures, 12 were passed at their second elections (85.7%) and two failed (14.3%).

A legislatively referred constitutional amendment on the ballot in Arkansas would have changed many aspects of the state’s initiative process including:

  1. increasing the signature distribution requirement,
  2. shortening the signature deadline, and
  3. eliminating the current opportunity proponents have to collect additional signatures if they fall short.

The amendment would also have changed the size of the vote required of the state legislature to refer constitutional amendments to voters from a simple majority to a three-fifths (60%) supermajority vote requirement. The measure was defeated by a vote of 44% in favor to 56% against.

Two direct democracy measures on the ballot in Montana that were referred by the state legislature were approved. They did not change the state’s initiative distribution requirements but rather amended the state constitution’s language to match the distribution requirements that were already enforced.

Additional reading:

Massachusetts ballot measure campaigns raised over $61.6 million this election cycle

Support and opposition campaigns for Massachusetts’ two November statewide ballot measures reported raising a total of $61.6 million according to the latest campaign finance reports filed November 20. 

The Right to Repair Coalition, the sponsor of Question 1, reported $24.9 million in contributions. Question 1 was approved. It amended the 2013 “right to repair law” to require manufacturers that sell vehicles with telematics systems in Massachusetts to equip them with a standardized system beginning with model year 2022 that vehicle owners and independent repair facilities may access to retrieve mechanical data and run diagnostics through a mobile-based application. The top donors to the campaign included:

  • Auto Care Association ($4.6 million)
  • Coalition of Automotive Repair Equality ($4.2 million)
  • AutoZone ($3 million)
  • O’Reilly Auto Parts ($3 million)
  • Advance Auto Parts ($3 million)
  • Genuine Parts Company ($3 million)

The Coalition for Safe and Secure Data registered in opposition to Question 1 and reported $26.5 million in contributions. The top donors to the campaign included:

  • General Motors ($5.5 million)
  • Toyota Motor North America, Inc ($4.5 million)
  • Ford Motor Company ($4.5 million)
  • American Honda Motor Co., Inc ($3.0 million)
  • Nissan North America Inc. ($2.4 million)

The Ranked Choice Voting 2020 Committee sponsored Question 2, the ranked-choice voting initiative, which was defeated 54.8% to 45.2%. The committee reported $10.2 million in contributions. The top donors to the committee were the Action Now Initiative ($3.7 million), Kathryn Murdoch ($2.5 million), and Michael Porter ($450,000). 

No Ranked Choice Voting registered in opposition to Question 2, which was also opposed by Massachusetts Governor Charles Baker (R). The committee reported $8,475 in contributions. 

Committees registered to support or oppose all of the 129 2020 statewide measures have reported a combined total of $1.19 billion in contributions and $994.1 million in expenditures. Massachusetts ballot measure campaigns raised the third largest amount in contributions compared to other states. California campaigns raised the most with $739 million, and Illinois campaigns raised the second most with $121.2 million.

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Voters approve Alaska Ballot Measure 2 which adopts top-four primaries, ranked-choice general elections

Alaska Ballot Measure 2 was approved with 50.5% of the vote reported as of November 17. Ballot Measure 2 was designed to make several changes to Alaska’s election policies, including:

* replacing partisan primaries with open top-four primaries for state executive, state legislative, and congressional offices;

* establishing ranked-choice voting for general elections, including the presidential election, in which voters can rank the candidates; and

* requiring persons and entities that contribute more than $2,000 that were themselves derived from donations, contributions, dues, or gifts to disclose the sources of the contributions.

Under Ballot Measure 2, Alaska is the first state to adopt top-four primaries for state executive, state legislative, and congressional offices. Like the top-two systems in California and Washington, candidates run in a single primary election, regardless of a candidate’s party affiliation. Unlike in California and Washington, where the two candidates who receive the most votes move onto the general election ballot, Ballot Measure 2 moves the four candidates who receive the most votes onto general election ballots.

At the general election, voters elect state and federal candidates using ranked-choice voting. For state executive, state legislative, and congressional elections, voters rank the four candidates that advanced from their top-four primaries. A candidate needs a simple majority of the vote (50%+1) to be declared the winner of an election. If no candidate wins a simple majority of the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated. People who voted for that candidate as their first choice would have their votes redistributed to their second choice. The tabulation process would continue in rounds until there are two candidates remaining, and the candidate with the greatest number of votes would be declared the winner.

Ballot Measure 2 gives ranked-choice voting proponents their second statewide win after Maine approved Question 5 in 2016. In 2020, Massachusetts also voted on a ranked-choice ballot measure, but it was defeated. On November 3, local ranked-choice voting ballot measures were approved in Albany and Eureka, California; Boulder, Colorado; and Bloomington and Minnetonka, Minnesota.

Alaskans for Better Elections led the campaign in support of Ballot Measure 2. Through October 24, 2020, the campaign’s committees had raised $6.8 million, with contributions from several organizations that seek to change election policies. Action Now Initiative was the largest donor, providing $2.8 million. Unite America was the second-largest donor, providing $2.7 million. Former Rep. Jason Grenn (Independent) was chairperson of the campaign. Green described the ballot initiative as “kind of a three-pronged attack on making our elections better.” Speaker of the Alaska State House Bryce Edgmon (Independent) supported Ballot Measure 2, as did the Alaska Libertarian Party and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld (R). 

Defend Alaska Elections led the campaign in opposition to Ballot Measure 2. Through October 24, Defend Alaska Elections, along with the Protect Our Elections PAC, had raised $472,836. The Alaska Republican Party provided $50,000 to Defend Alaska Elections. The Republican State Leadership Committee also provided $50,000. John Sturgeon, the chairperson of Defend Alaska Elections, described Ballot Measure 2 as “a 25-page-long mess that isn’t fair, democratic, or needed.” Former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D) and former Gov. Sean Parnell (R) opposed Ballot Measure 2.

Ballot Measure 2’s system of top-four primaries and ranked-choice voting general elections will be first used in 2022, which includes the gubernatorial, U.S. House, and a U.S. Senate election in Alaska. 

Voters in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois decide ballot measures regarding state income taxes

Voters in 12 states voted on 19 ballot measures addressing tax-related policies on Nov. 3. Ten of the measures addressed taxes on properties, three were related to income tax rates, two addressed tobacco taxes, one addressed business-related taxes, one addressed sales tax rates, one addressed fees and surcharges, and one was related to tax-increment financing (TIF).

The three measures concerning state income taxes were on the ballot in Arizona, Colorado, and Illinois. Arizona voters approved a measure to add a surtax for income above a certain level to fund education. Colorado voters approved an income tax decrease. Illinois voters defeated a measure to allow for a graduated income tax.

Arizona Proposition 208 was approved by a vote of 51.75% to 48.25%. The measure enacted a 3.50% income tax, in addition to the existing income tax, on taxable income above $250,000 (single filing) or $500,000 (joint filing). As of 2020, the highest income tax in Arizona was 4.50%, which was levied on income above $159,000 (single filing) or $318,000 (joint filing). Based on the existing income tax rates, the ballot initiative has the effect of increasing the tax rate from 4.50% to 8.00% on income above $250,000 (single filing) or $500,000 (joint filing). The Invest in Education PAC was registered in support of the ballot initiative. The PAC received $21.6 million in contributions. The Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy and No on 208 PACs were registered in opposition to the ballot initiative. The PACs received $5.7 million in contributions.

Colorado Proposition 116 was designed to decrease the state income tax rate from 4.63% to 4.55% for individuals, estates, trusts, and foreign and domestic C corporations operating in Colorado. It was approved by a vote of 57.88% to 42.12%.

The Colorado individual income tax rate has been a flat tax rate since 1987. The flat tax was 5% from 1987 to 1998. It was lowered to 4.75% in 1999. The rate has been 4.63% since 2000. Energize our Economy (306 Real Fair Tax) and Americans for Prosperity Colorado Issue Committee raised $1.55 million in contributions to support the measure. Protect Colorado’s Recovery and Fair Tax Colorado reported $3.19 million in contributions to oppose the measure.

An amendment to authorize the state to enact legislation providing for a graduated income tax was on the ballot in Illinois where it was defeated by a vote of 45.46% to 54.54%. The ballot measure would have repealed the state’s constitutional requirement that the state’s personal income tax is a flat rate across income. Instead, the ballot measure would have allowed the state to enact legislation for a graduated income tax. In Illinois, income is taxed at a flat rate of 4.95%.

The Vote Yes For Fairness, Vote Yes for Fair Tax, and Yes to a Financially Responsible Illinois PACs were registered to support the constitutional amendment. Together, the committees had raised $60.33 million. Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) contributed 94 percent of the PACs’ total combined funds.

The Vote No On The Blank Check Amendment, Coalition To Stop The Proposed Tax Hike, and Chambers Against Progressive Income Tax PACs were registered to oppose the constitutional amendment. Together, the committees had raised $60.86 million. Ken Griffin, the founder and CEO of Citadel, contributed 88 percent of the PACs’ total combined funds.

Going into the 2020 election, 43 states levied a tax on personal income. Of these 43 states, 11 states had a flat income tax rate, meaning there is a constant rate across income before deductions and exemptions. The flat income tax rates ranged from 2.00% in Tennessee to 5.25% in North Carolina. Tennessee’s income tax was scheduled to be reduced to 1.00% in 2020 and to be repealed entirely in 2021. Most (32 of 50) states had a graduated income tax, with different rates applied to different levels of income.

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