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Voters approved changes to campaign finance, election dates, election systems, redistricting, suffrage, and term limits in 2020

In 2020, 12 states approved 13 ballot measures related to election policy including changes to campaign finance, election dates, election systems, redistricting, suffrage, and term limits. The measures are listed below according to topic.

Campaign finance:

  • Oregon Measure 107: Measure 107 authorizes the state legislature and local governments to (1) enact laws or ordinances limiting campaign contributions and expenditures; (2) require disclosure of contributions and expenditures; and (3) require that political advertisements identify the people or entities that paid for them. Going into the election, Oregon was one of five states with no limits on campaign contributions.

Election dates:

  • New Mexico Constitutional Amendment 2: The amendment allows the state legislature to pass laws changing election dates of state or county officeholders and altering office terms according to those date changes. Under the measure, laws proposing changes to election dates of non-statewide officeholders must be supported by a legislative finding that such a change would promote consistency or that it would evenly distribute the number of offices appearing on the ballot. In 2019, the New Mexico State Legislature passed House Bill 407, which divided state, county, and judicial elections between presidential and gubernatorial election ballots. These provisions of HB 407 were ruled unconstitutional by the New Mexico Supreme Court in 2019. With the passage of the Amendment, these provisions of HB 407 are now enforceable. HB 407 extended the terms of district attorneys, county offices, and judicial offices.

Election systems:

  • Alaska Ballot Measure 2: Ballot Measure 2 replaced the state’s partisan primaries with open top-four primaries for state executive, state legislative, and congressional offices and established ranked-choice voting for general elections, including the presidential election, in which voters would rank the candidates. Ballot Measure 2 also required persons and entities that contribute more than $2,000 that were themselves derived from donations, contributions, dues, or gifts to disclose the true sources, as defined in the law, of the political contributions.
  • Colorado Proposition 113: In 2019, the Colorado State Legislature passed a bill to add Colorado to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). The NPVIC was designed to go into effect if states representing at least 270 electoral votes join the NPVIC. Proposition 113 was a referendum on the 2019 law. On November 3, voters upheld the law and voted in favor of adding Colorado to the NPVIC. As of January 2021, the 15 states and DC had joined representing 196 votes.
  • Mississippi Ballot Measure 2: As of 2020, Mississippi required that a candidate for governor or elected state office receive the most votes in a majority of the state’s 122 state House of Representatives districts (known as the electoral vote requirement). Ballot Measure 2 repealed this requirement. Instead, Ballot Measure 2 provided that a candidate for governor or state office must receive a majority vote to win and that a runoff election would be held between the two highest vote-getters in the event that no candidate received a majority vote.

Redistricting:

  • Missouri Amendment 3: Amendment 3 repealed the non-partisan state demographer and returned the state to the use of bipartisan redistricting commissions, with changes to the number and selection of commissioners. The 2020 amendment also maintained the criteria of competitiveness and partisan fairness that was enacted in 2018, but it loosened the partisan fairness requirement and required that population, voter rights abridgment, contiguous districts, simple shapes, and the rules for counties be considered with a higher priority.
  • New Jersey Public Question 3: Question 3 postponed state legislative redistricting until after the election on November 2, 2021, should the state receive federal census data after February 15, 2021. 
  • Virginia Question 1: Question 1 transferred the power to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts from the state legislature to a redistricting commission composed of state legislators and citizens.

Suffrage:

  • Alabama Amendment 1: Amendment 1 amended the Alabama Constitution to state that “only a citizen” of the U.S. who is 18 years old or older can vote in Alabama.
  • California Proposition 17: Proposition 17 amended the state constitution to allow people with felonies who are on parole to vote; therefore, the ballot measure kept imprisonment as a disqualification for voting but removed parole status. 
  • Colorado Amendment 76: Amendment 76 amended the Colorado Constitution to state that “only a citizen” of the U.S. who is 18 years of age or older can vote in Colorado. The Colorado Legislative Council wrote in the 2020 Blue Book that “under Amendment 76, 17-year-olds who are currently able to vote in primary elections will no longer be eligible to do so.”
  • Florida Amendment 1: Amendment 1 amended the Florida Constitution to state that “only a citizen” of the U.S. who is 18 years old or older can vote in Florida instead of saying that “every citizen” of the U.S. who is 18 years old or older can vote in Florida.

Term limits:

  • Arkansas Issue 2: Issue 2 imposed term limits of 12 consecutive years for state legislators with the opportunity to return after a four-year break. State legislators elected in November 2020 or currently serving would be allowed to serve the former term limit of 16 years.

In 2020, Ballotpedia covered local measures that appeared on the ballot for voters within the top 100 largest cities in the U.S. and a selection of notable election-related measures outside of the top 100 largest cities. Eleven local jurisdictions affecting voters in the top 100 largest cities approved 17 local ballot measures related to election policy. The approved measures in the top 100 largest cities are listed alphabetically by jurisdiction.

Local election policy ballot measures in the top 100 cities:

  • Anchorage, Alaska, Proposition 12: Proposition 12 increased the Anchorage Assembly from 11 to 12 members. The change will take effect the adoption of a final state redistricting plan by the Redistricting Board of the State of Alaska following the official reporting of the 2020 census.
  • Chandler, Arizona, Proposition 426: Proposition 426 amended the city’s charter to say that primary, regular, and special elections may be held on election dates authorized by state law. State law requires primary elections to be held on the 1st Tuesday of August before the general election. Before the election, the Chandler City Charter said that the city’s municipal primary election shall be held on the 10th Tuesday before the general election.
  • Miami-Dade County, Florida, Referendum 2: Referendum 2 amended the county charter to establish that if a mayor or county commission member resigns to run for another office the vacancy must be filled during the next primary and general election rather than through appointment or a special election.
  • Baltimore, Maryland, Question I: Question I allows the city council to remove council members, the council president, the mayor, or the comptroller by a three-fourths vote of council members upon charges brought by the mayor, the city council committee on legislative investigations, the inspector general, or a petition signed by 20% of qualified voters in the city.
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota, Question 2: Question 2 amended the city charter to state that special municipal elections to fill vacancies must be held on one of the state-set uniform election dates that is at least 90 days after the vacancy occurs.
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota, Question 1: Question 1 amended the city charter to establish city council elections in 2021 and 2023 for two-year terms instead of four-year terms with four-year term elections restarting in 2025 and to use this method whenever regular city council elections do not fall in a year ending in a 3 so as to comply with a state law designed to require city council elections in years ending in 2 or 3 after a census.
  • St. Louis, Missouri, Proposition D: Proposition D made elections open and non-partisan for the offices of mayor, comptroller, president of the Board of Aldermen, and the Board of Aldermen; changed from a plurality voting system to an approval voting system, whereby voters may vote for any number of candidates they prefer; and required a runoff general election for the top two candidates.
  • Oakland, California, Measure QQ: Measure QQ allowed the city council to pass an ordinance to allow 16-year-olds to vote for the office of the school board director.
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Proposition 1: Proposition 1 made the following changes:
    • changed the names of “primary” and “general” elections to “general” and “runoff” elections throughout; 
    • set the regular general election date for mayoral elections to be the second the Tuesday in February in 2022 and every four years going forward instead of the existing primary mayoral election date set as the second Tuesday in March; 
    • set the regular general election date for city council elections to be the second Tuesday in odd-numbered years instead of the existing primary city council election date set as the first Tuesday in March; 
    • set the regular runoff election date for both mayoral and city council elections as the first Tuesday in April immediately following the general election if required; 
    • added specific processes for if the city council creates more than eight city wards; and 
    • established that elected officers take office four weeks after the runoff election rather than one week.
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Proposition 2: Proposition 2 required that a candidate be a resident of the city for one year before filing for candidacy instead of three years before the election date; required that a candidate be a registered voter in the city (for mayor) or the relevant ward (for city council) for one year before filing for candidacy, while existing provisions require residency in the relevant ward for six months; and explicitly stated that qualification requirements, including citizenship and age requirements, apply at the time of filing a declaration of candidacy.
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Proposition 3: Proposition amended the city charter to change the deadline to fill the vice mayor position through a majority vote of the city council from 15 days to 30 days.
  • Riverside, California Measure Q: Measure Q made the following changes:
    • required the city council to make an appointment to fill a vacancy for an elected office with up to one year left in the term;
    • required a special election to fill a vacancy for an elected office with more than one year left in the term;
    • established a process for a runoff election if no candidate receives a majority of votes in the special election to fill a vacancy; and
    • prohibited appointed officials from making references indicating they are incumbents for future elections to the same seat.
  • Riverside, California, Measure R: Measure R consolidated city council and mayor elections with state primary and general elections and allowed for temporary adjustments to term lengths and election dates to carry out the consolidation.
  • Riverside, California, Measure S: Measure S required the city council to submit any charter amendments they propose—not those initiated through a signature petition—to the charter review commission in order to receive a recommendation before the city council refers them to voters.
  • Sacramento, California, Measure B: Measure B created a one-time exception for the redistricting deadline after the 2020 census to account for COVID-19 census delays by allowing the city’s redistricting commission until 130 days before the 2022 primary election to complete redistricting and create a map to be used at the 2022 primary election.
  • San Diego Unified School District, California, Measure C: Measure C established that school district board members are elected by sub-district in both primary and general elections rather than running by sub-district in primaries but being elected by the entire district in the general election.
  • San Diego Unified School District, California, Measure D: Measure D added San Diego Unified School District board members under the city’s rules for removing elected officials for cause and filling the vacancies.

Five local jurisdictions outside of the top 100 largest cities approved ranked-choice voting measures in 2020.

Ranked-choice voting measures outside of top 100 cities:

  • Albany, California, Measure BB: Measure BB authorized the use of ranked-choice voting for city elections for members of the city council and the board of education.
  • Bloomington, Minnesota, Question 3: Question 3 amended the city charter to elect the mayor and city council members through ranked-choice voting.
  • Boulder, Colorado, Measure 2E: Measure 2E amended the city charter to elect the mayor through ranked-choice voting.
  • Eureka, California, Measure C: Measure C amended the city charter to require ranked-choice voting for electing the mayor and councilmembers.
  • Minnetonka, Minnesota, Question 1: Question 1 amended the city charter to elect the mayor and city council members through ranked-choice voting.

Additional Reading:



Are results reported on election night coming from in-person or absentee/mail-in votes?

According to a projection from The New York Times, 80 million people will vote by mail in 2020, that number is more than twice the amount of people who did so in 2016. Given that absentee ballots take longer to process and count than in-person ballots, some voters wonder whether election night results reflect both sources of votes.

Election results reported on election night include a mixture of absentee/mail-in and in-person votes. However, many states will not complete the counting of absentee votes on election night. While some states only count absentee ballots that arrive after November 3, 2020 but are postmarked by that date, and other states are legally bound to wait until Election Day to begin processing absentee/mail-in ballots.

State laws set different reporting requirements for absentee/mail-in votes on election night. The most common method is for each precinct or voting district to add together in-person and absentee votes and report the total to the state elections agency. A few states create special precincts where absentee/mail-in votes are counted separately from in-person votes. For example, in Iowa, state law requires each county to have both an absentee ballot and special voters precinct.

Unofficial election night results are often displayed alongside the percentage of precincts reporting, which is intended as a measure of how far vote counting has progressed. The percentage of precincts reporting is not the same as the percentage of the total vote that has been counted. Precincts differ in size, meaning that one precinct might report a far greater number of votes than another. In addition, some states include a precinct in its percentage of precincts reporting if the precinct has reported any results at all, even if it is far from completing the vote count.

Additional Reading:



What happens if a presidential nominee becomes incapacitated before the election?

Political parties set procedures for how to fill vacancies on the national ticket in the event that a presidential or vice-presidential candidate withdraws from the race or becomes incapacitated.

The Democratic National Committee outlines the process it uses to fill vacancies in its Charter and Bylaws. In the event of a vacancy on the national ticket, the Chairperson of the DNC, currently Tom Perez, would call a special meeting, and members of the DNC would select a replacement candidate.

Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee allows for two options for selecting a replacement candidate. The first option is for the members of the RNC to select a candidate. The second option is for the party to hold a second national convention. In that case, the party’s delegates would select the replacement candidate.

However, whether it is possible for a party to change a candidate’s name on the ballot depends on ballot certification deadlines set by the states. These certification deadlines have passed, and absentee and early voting in the 2020 presidential election have already begun in some states.

The Electoral College could assume an important role in the event that a presidential candidate becomes incapacitated after it is no longer possible to replace his or her name on the ballot. In some states, electors are not required by law to vote for the candidate who wins the popular vote in their state or district. These electors could vote for a replacement candidate that their political party has selected.

Other states do have laws that require electors to vote for the candidate who wins the popular vote in their state or district. However, it is a controversial legal question whether these laws are binding in the scenario where the winning candidate is unable to serve. Whether it is legal for electors in these states to vote for a party’s replacement candidate would likely be settled in the courts.

Additional reading: