Ballot Questions of Interest This Year: The Eastern States

Yesterday, I looked at some interesting/controversial ballot questions in states west of the Mississippi River.  Today, I look at questions in the states in the Eastern half of the country.

Alabama:  The most interesting question (of 12) asks whether there be a state constitutional amendment that a person’s right to work in the state cannot be dependent upon membership in a labor union or organization.  It would constitutionally protect that state’s right-to-work laws.

Florida:  In 2014, Florida voters approved a public referendum in favor of medical marijuana in the state.  It received 57.6% of the vote in favor or legalizing pot for medicinal purposes.  However, under Florida law, for a referendum to be enacted in the state, it must receive 60% of the vote.  Having failed in 2014 by 2.4%, proponents organized and planned for a follow-up vote in 2016.

Georgia: Voters will be asked to approve or disapprove a state law which would grant the state’s Education Department the authority to take over “chronically failing” public schools.  If approved, the state authorities would be granted the power to select or remove school administration, transfer teachers, control school budgets and control curriculum content.

State take-over of local districts or schools is a controversial subject with mixed to not-so-good results.  Before Georgia voters make up their mind since there is a tendency to vote “yes” under the assumption that “something has to be done,” they need to think long and hard before giving up local control to the state.

Many times the “cure” makes the problem worse, something I know from personal experience.

Maine:  Maine is jumping on the marijuana legalization bandwagon with a proposal to make it legal, establish a tax structure and list it as just another agricultural product.

Another proposal would enact a 3% surcharge on household income in excess of $200,000 with increased revenue earmarked for education.  It is estimated it would raise an additional $157 million annually…assuming households with income greater than $200,000 do not vote with their feet and leave Maine.

With certain specific instructions, all firearms transfers would have to be conducted at a licensed firearms dealer’s place of business and a background check performed on all transferees.  The exceptions are emergencies, while hunting or during sporting events, and among family members.

Yet another question would increase the state’s minimum wage to $12 per hour gradually until fully implemented in 2020.  The final question would approve ranked choice voting.  According to Wikipedia, it works like this:

It is a preferential voting system in which voters rank candidates in order of preference, rather than voting for a single candidate. Ballots are initially counted for each elector’s first choice candidate. If a candidate secures more than half of the votes, that candidate wins. Otherwise, the candidate in last place loses, and votes for that candidate are added to the totals of the candidate ranked next on each ballot. This process repeats until one candidate wins by obtaining more than half the votes. In the final “instant runoff,” the winner always has majority support of those voters who indicated a preference for one or more of the finalists.

If enacted, Maine would become the only state to use this method.  Proponents argue that it would eliminate the role of spoilers and fringe candidates, and strategic voting.  Opponents point to Oakland, California which uses the system.  In 2010, Jean Quan won election after securing only 24% of the vote.  When the first round winner did not actually win election in Burlington, Vermont which also used this system, they repealed their law.  They also point out that this proposal would apply to Federal positions (House members and the Senate) and would disenfranchise voters by recounting ballots of the losers to determine the winners.

Massachusetts:  Voters will be confronted with three questions of interest.  The first would allow the state’s Education Department to allow increased enrollment at state charter schools and authorize the state to allow up to 12 more charter schools.  Of course, teacher unions are opposed.

A second question is whether to ban the sale of meat products of any animal “confined in a cruel manner.”  “Cruel manner” is defined as any practice that prevents an animal from “laying down, standing up, extending their limbs or being able to turn freely.”  Obviously, the animal movement police will be out in full force.  One has to question whether this proposal will stand up under the Commerce Clause if enacted.

And the third question would legalize the recreational use of marijuana for anyone over the age of 21.  If approved, the state would join Colorado, Alaska, Washington and Oregon and be the only state east of the Mississippi to legalize marijuana…if Maine doesn’t beat them to it.

New Jersey:  New Jersey voters will be asked whether to expand casino gaming beyond Atlantic City.  Two casinos would be permitted in the northern part of the state.  Current casino licensees in the state would be given six months to make proposals with investment of at least $1 billion.  This was a compromise made between the state senate and assembly, the latter who argued that small-scale investment and minimal job creation would result.  State legislators from the southern part of the state vehemently opposed the proposal and lost out along mainly partisan lines.

Virginia:  Virginia is a right-to-work state and, by statute, bans employers from requiring union membership for workers.  However, some in the state legislature do not trust the current state attorney general or future pro-labor Democratic leaders in the state to fully enforce the laws.  If approved, the statute would eliminate those fears by placing the right-to-work concept in the state’s constitution.

Overall, ballot questions are interesting to see what is on the minds of voters in any particular election cycle.  The following chart illustrates the approved ballot questions and those proposed, but not approved, by category:

Not approved Approved Total
Taxes/Government Finance 64 26 90
Direct Democracy/Electoral Reform 53 10 63
Legislative Reforms 48 10 58
Marijuana 49 7 56
Education 26 10 36
Judicial Reform 18 8 26
Energy/Environment 17 8 25
Criminal Justice Reform 18 7 25
Health Care 20 3 23
Campaign Finance Reform 8 9 17
Animal/Hunting Rights 8 5 13
Minimum Wage 9 3 12
Casino gambling 8 3 11
Gay Rights 9 0 9
Abortion 9 0 9
Labor 7 2 9
Guns 5 3 8
Alcohol 7 0 7
Religious Liberty 3 0 3
Immigration 2 0

As one can tell taxation/government finance leads the way followed by electoral reforms.  Most of the social issues place very low on the list with education and marijuana laws being the most legislatively discussed issues.