The presidential race and legislative offices aren’t the only things on voters’ ballots on Tuesday. Around the country, voters will also get to decide ballot measures that could change the lives of millions of Americans — offering them access to cheaper prescription drugs, for instance, or legalizing the sale of recreational marijuana, or changing the system by which they vote altogether.
Here are 11 issues on state ballots that could change America:
- Cheaper Pharmaceutical Drugs and True Universal Health Care (California and Colorado): California’s Proposition 61 could potentially dramatically lower the prices of pharmaceutical drugs for many in the state, as it would mandate state agencies to purchase medicine at a price no higher than what the Department of Veterans Affairs pays for them (it negotiates prices to lower them considerably). The big drug companies have spent over $100 million trying to stop the initiative. Meanwhile, in Colorado, voters will have a chance to enact a truly universal health care system with Amendment 69, which would direct the state to adopt a single-payer plan. The health insurance industry has hired Democratic consultants to try to stop the push.
- A Different Way to Vote That Busts Up the Two-Party Duopoly (Maine): In Maine, voters will have an opportunity to enact a ranked-choice voting system — becoming the first state to do so statewide. Under this system, voters choose not just one candidate at the ballot, but rank their preferences between different parties and candidates — empowering voters to vote for third-party and independent candidates without worrying about viability. If no candidate receives the majority of first-preference votes, then the candidates who finished last are eliminated each round until the winning candidate has the majority of votes. Maine, a state where independent candidates are popular, is a great place to start with such a system — the current Republican Governor Paul LePage has never received a majority of votes thanks to three-way vote splitting, something that is not possible under a ranked-choice system.
- Curtail the Influence of Money in Politics (South Dakota, Missouri): Voters in South Dakota will decide the fate of Initiated Measure 22, the South Dakota Government Accountability and Anti-Corruption Act. Currently, South Dakota is the only state in the country where lobbyists can give an unlimited number of secret gifts to lawmakers. The measure would, among other things, limit the gifts an individual lobbyist can give a lawmaker to a value of $100 a year. In Missouri, candidates can rake in virtually unlimited contributions from megadonors, and the governor’s race is the nation’s most expensive, topping $50 million in spending. With Amendment 2, voters can change that. It would enact rules that cap donations to individual candidates to $2,600.
- Boost the Minimum Wage, or Lower it for the Young (Arizona, Colorado, Maine, South Dakota, Washington): Four states — Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington — will have initiatives on the ballot to raise the minimum wage. But one state, South Dakota, is asking voters for permission to lower the state minimum wage from $8.50 to $7.50 for workers under age 18.
- Expand Charter Schools and School Takeovers (Massachusetts, Georgia): Massachusetts voters will decide the fate of Question 2, which would lift the state’s charter school cap and allow up to 12 independent charter schools to be established each year. Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who represents the state, came out against the initiative in late September, raising concerns that it would help drain funding away from traditional public schools. In Georgia, Amendment 1 would empower the state to take over what it deems to be failing schools and potentially shut them down or convert them into charter schools. The amendment has faced fierce opposition from teachers, who see it as a way of undermining local control of public education.
- Legalize Marijuana (California, Massachusetts, Maine, Arizona and Nevada): Five states are looking at legalizing recreational marijuana. The ballot measures would allow for states to regulate marijuana sales and generate tax revenue. A 15 percent California sales tax would go toward drug research and law enforcement, and a 10 percent Maine sales tax would to to a general fund. People age 21 or older would be allowed to possess a limited amount of weed in these states, though in Arizona and Nevada they would be fined if caught smoking in public view. The pharmaceutical industry, alcohol industry, police and prison guard groups and billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson have bankrolled the opposition to these measures. Jerry Brown of California is the only governor of the five states who has not spoken against the measures; he has declined to take a position. Three other states — Montana, Florida, and North Dakota — are looking at legalizing medical marijuana.
A man fills out Federal background check paperwork as he purchases a handgun at the K&W Gunworks store on Jan. 5, 2016, in Delray Beach, Florida.
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Background Checks for Guns and Other Restrictions (California, Maine, Nevada, Washington): Three states — California, Maine, and Nevada — have ballot measures that would strengthen measures requiring background checks for gun purchases or for the purchase of ammunition. In Washington, Initiative 1491 would empower judges to remove an individual’s access to firearms if it was deemed they were a danger to themselves or others.
End or Restore the Death Penalty (California, Nebraska): Two states, California and Nebraska, are revisiting whether prisoners should be subject to capital punishment. California has two ballot measures — Proposition 62 would repeal the death penalty, while Proposition 66 would speed up the appeals process and increase the amount of a prisoner’s wages that would go to a victim’s family for restitution. Since the two measures contradict each other, the ballot measure with the most “yes” votes will pass. In Nebraska, voters are being asked to overturn the death penalty ban passed by the state legislature in May 2015.
Ensure Rights for the Incarcerated (Colorado, California, New Mexico): In Colorado, Amendment T would forbid authorities from forcing prisoners to do unpaid labor. It would remove language about slavery from the Colorado constitution that the head of the state’s ACLU called “archaic and offensive.” In New Mexico, Constitutional Amendment 1 would prevent officials from keeping people in jail solely because they can’t pay bail, and allow for defendants who are proven dangerous to be denied bail entirely. California Proposition 57, pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown, would create more opportunities for parole for people in prison for nonviolent crimes. It would also let judges, rather than prosecutors, decide whether a juvenile should be tried in court as an adult.
Protect Animals (Massachusetts, Montana, Oregon): In Massachusetts, Question 3 would ban sales of eggs, veal, or pork from farms where animals are kept in spaces so small that they cannot stand up or move around freely. A measure in Montana would ban animal traps on state public lands. Oregon’s Measure 100 would prohibit the sale of products made from 12 types of animals, including lions, elephants, and sea turtles. Exemptions would apply for inheritances, antiques, certain musical instruments, and members of Native American tribes.
Raise Taxes (Oregon, Washington): Oregon’s Measure 97 would increase the corporate gross sales tax, generating an estimated $25 million in revenue to be used for the state to fund its needs. It is the most expensive ballot battle in Oregon’s history with $42 million spent during the campaign. In Washington, Initiative 732 seeks to establish a carbon tax, although the environmental community there is split on the measure.
In addition to these state referendums, some cities are voting on innovative measures as well. For example, in San Francisco, voters will decide whether to lower the voting age to 16.
Top photo: Marijuana plants grow at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center medical marijuana dispensary, which opened in 2006, on July 25, 2012, in Los Angeles, California.