Image courtesy of CBS News
By Shannon Rose Miekka
Biden vs. Trump was not the only important choice on the 2020 ballot. Voters in 32 states decided on 120 statewide ballot measures this November, addressing issues including marijuana, police reform, sustainable energy, and election procedure.
Legalization of Marijuana
Eleven U.S. states have already legalized recreational marijuana, and this November, four more states joined them. Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota voted on recreational marijuana legalization initiatives, and two states on medical marijuana initiatives. All seven ballot measures passed.
New Jersey is now the first state in the mid-Atlantic to legalize marijuana, and South Dakota became the first state to approve both medical and recreational marijuana simultaneously. Mississippi also voted its medical marijuana amendment into law, but it has not yet legalized recreational use.
So personal use of marijuana is now legal in all four states, but what does this mean for criminalization?
Not every ballot measure addressed decriminalization. Arizona’s Proposition 207 permits the courts to vacate and expunge certain arrests, convictions, and sentences for marijuana. Thanks to Montana’s Initiative 118, those serving sentences for marijuana-related offenses can now apply for resentencing or expungement of their conviction.
Oregon, where recreational marijuana was made legal in 2014, passed the Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative by a large margin. This measure will fund drug treatment centers with marijuana tax money, as well as reclassify the possession of certain drugs— including heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines— from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E violation. Misdemeanors can carry up to a year in prison, whereas violations are usually punishable by fines and do not require jail time.
Puerto Rico Statehood
Last week, Puerto Rican voters were asked about statehood for the sixth time, but this time with a simple yes or no question: “Should Puerto Rico be admitted immediately into the Union as a state?”
The Statehood Referendum narrowly passed with 52% of the vote. Since the referendum is non-binding, Puerto Rico will still need Congressional approval to establish Puerto Rico as the 51st state.
Now that the measure is approved, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced (who announced the referendum in May) will appoint a seven-member commission to represent Puerto Rico in matters and negotiations related to achieving statehood. Citizens of Puerto Rico are considered U.S. citizens; however, Puerto Rico does not have representation with voting privileges in the Congress nor the ability to vote for president in general elections.
With 53% of the vote, Rhode Island passed an amendment to remove “Providence Plantations” from the official state name. In 2010, the same measure was defeated by 78% of voters.
Until Tuesday, Mississippi was the only state to have Confederate symbols on its state flag. Earlier this year, Governor Tate Reeves (R) signed House Bill 1796, retiring the old design. On Election Day, 72% of voters approved the state flag referendum, replacing the 126-year-old banner with the new “In God We Trust” flag.
Sixty-one percent of Floridians voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2026, barely achieving the 60% needed to pass the amendment. It will jump from $8.56 to $10 an hour in 2021, then increase $1 a year until 2026.
Oklahoma voted against a measure to decrease payments made to the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund from 75% to 25% and redirect funding to the state’s Medicare program.
In Colorado, 57% of voters approved the Paid Medical and Family Leave Initiative. This allows for 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave funded through a payroll tax paid by employers and employees in a 50/50 split.
Nevada repealed a 2002 law which stated that marriage was only recognized by the state if it was between a male and a female. The initiative passed with 62% of the vote, defining marriage as between couples regardless of gender.
Several constitutional amendments were on the ballot in Utah. Fifty-eight percent of voters approved a change to make the language in the state constitution gender neutral. A whopping 81% voted to repeal a constitutional exception on the ban of slavery, which allowed for slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime.
Californians voted against the repeal of Proposition 209, the state’s Affirmative Action Amendment, which stated that the government and public institutions cannot discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to persons on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.
An initiative in Colorado to ban abortions after 22 weeks did not pass, keeping Colorado as one of seven states that does not specify a gestational limit on abortion, with or without exceptions.
However, Louisiana voted to add phrasing regarding abortion to their constitution: “Nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion, or require the funding of abortion.” The amendment prevents state lawmakers from deeming abortion restrictions unconstitutional should Roe v. Wade be overturned.
The country approved more than two dozen conservation ballot measures on both local and statewide levels.
Denver voted to introduce a “climate sales tax,” a quarter-cent sales tax increase that is expected to generate $720 million for a variety of climate-related programs.
Voters in Nevada changed the state’s energy policy, requiring utilities to acquire 50 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2030.
No statewide initiatives regarding police reform were proposed this year, but several local ballot measures addressed the issue. At least eighteen local police-related or law enforcement measures were written following the death of George Floyd.
More than 80% of voters in Portland, Oregon approved an amendment to the city’s charter to create a police oversight committee that would have the power to investigate the use of deadly force and allegations of misconduct by officers.
Other cities also voted to establish or reform police oversight committees, including King’s County, Wash., San Francisco, Calif., and Philadelphia, Pa.
Los Angeles County approved an initiative that requires at least 10% of the county’s general fund to be appropriated to community programs and alternatives to incarceration. DuPage County in Illinois, however, voted to continue to consider law enforcement its top budgeting priority.
The election process itself was also on the ballot this year. Fifty-seven percent of Florida voted to institute top-two open primaries for state offices, but it failed to meet the 60% threshold.
The option to institute ranked-choice voting was up in two states. In Alaska, voters did not approve the proposed changes to election policies, including top-four primaries, ranked-choice voting, and campaign finance laws. Massachusetts also denied a ranked-choice voting system.
Californians voted to restore the right to vote to people convicted of felonies who are on parole, but an initiative to allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary and special elections did not pass.
Just in time for the 2020 Census and 2021 redistricting, Virginians voted to create a redistricting commission to draw congressional and state legislative districts. Missouri narrowly approved an amendment for bipartisan commissions for legislative redistricting.
Of the 120 statewide measures, 83 are considered approved, 28 defeated, and 9 are still too close to call. The race at the top of the ticket was certainly flashy, but meaningful change sometimes sits at the bottom of the ballot.