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Notable ballot measures from the 2020 election and how they could reshape America

  • Notable ballot measures from the 2020 election and how they could reshape America

    During every election cycle, pundits explain the peculiarities of the Electoral College system by reminding voters that the United States was founded as a republic, not a democracy. In America, they say, voters choose representatives who then vote on their behalf when it’s time to craft policy. That would be news to the countless voters who made their voices heard this election not by choosing representatives to send to their statehouse or to Washington D.C., but by deciding on consequential policy changes directly through ballot questions.

    The epitome of democracy in action, ballot questions put the power of policy directly in the hands of the American voter. In some states, like California, deciding on a blizzard of often complex and sometimes confusing ballot questions every election is baked into the state’s democratic DNA. Ballot measures in other states are last resorts, reserved for questions that are too controversial or clumsy to shepherd through the state legislature via traditional political channels.

    2020 voters passed and rejected ballot measures with enormous implications across the country. Some will check police power. Others will legalize marijuana and even decriminalize hard drugs. Others will raise taxes, improve transportation, and regulate the gig economy.

    Using a combination of Ballotpedia, FiveThirtyEight, and local news websites, Stacker compiled a list of 30 notable ballot measures voted upon in the 2020 election. The measures are organized by different topics, including abortion, drug legalization and regulation, marriage equality, transportation, police reform, and labor. All election results mentioned in this story are current as of Nov. 11, 2020.

    Whether or not ballot measures were up for a vote in the localities where individual readers lived, they should know that the implication of some of the outcomes are likely to have nationwide repercussions. This list explores the ballot measures that were the most controversial, most consequential, and most pressing in the entire country.

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  • Colorado: Proposition 115

    - Topic: Abortion

    A 58.9% majority of Coloradans rejected Proposition 115 on Election Day. The initiative would have banned abortions after 22 weeks except to save the life of the mother. Punishments would not have included jail time, but offenders could have been hit with a fine up to $5,000.

  • Louisiana: Proposed Amendment #1

    - Topic: Abortion

    In Louisiana, an even greater majority than that which decided Colorado’s abortion-related ballot question sided with the majority in voting to pass Amendment #1. The measure, which passed with 62.1% of the vote, will amend the state constitution to omit any language that implies that a woman has a right to get an abortion or that any abortion should be funded. A largely symbolic victory for now, the initiative represents the foundational legal framework the state would have to erect if Roe v. Wade were overturned, which anti-abortion Louisianans hope is on the horizon now that conservatives have succeeded in stacking the Supreme Court.

  • Oregon: Measure 110

    - Topic: Drug legalization/regulation

    In the boldest and most significant repudiation of the war on drugs in history, Oregonians passed Measure 110 by a wide margin. While many states have adopted medical marijuana, decriminalization of marijuana, and even legal recreational pot, Measure 110 almost completely severs drug possession from the criminal justice system, including the personal possession of hard drugs like cocaine, heroin, and meth. The penalty for possession is now limited to a small fine that can be waived if the person receiving the ticket agrees to participate in a health assessment.

  • New Jersey: Public Question 1

    - Topic: Drug legalization/regulation

    Legalization advocates in New Jersey and New York have been locked for years in a race to become the first state in the sub-New England Northeast to legalize recreational pot. New Jersey won that race on Election Day when its voters approved Public Question 1. The Garden State is now positioned to benefit from a huge boon in marijuana tax revenue as it’s flooded with demand not only from New Jersey residents, but from those in the enormous neighboring markets of Philadelphia and New York.

  • Arizona: Proposition 207

    - Topic: Drug legalization/regulation

    Thanks to the passage of Proposition 207, adults 21 and aloder in Arizona can now buy, possess, consume, and even grow limited amounts of marijuana. The initiative—which also allows people to request expungement of qualifying pot convictions—puts Arizona in league with neighbors Colorado, California, and Nevada as part of a growing contingent of Western states moving toward full legalization.

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  • Montana: Constitutional Initiative 190

    - Topic: Drug legalization/regulation

    Despite the fact that three of its four neighboring states don’t even recognize medical marijuana, Montana joined Colorado in approving recreational pot for personal use, cultivation, and taxation in the Mountain West. Constitutional Initiative 190 comes with a 20% tax on non-medical marijuana and is expected to generate $48 million a year by 2025.

  • South Dakota: Constitutional Amendment A

    - Topic: Drug legalization/regulation

    Unlike neighboring Montana, which transitioned first through medical marijuana, South Dakota jumped straight to full legalization with the passage of Constitutional Amendment A. Proponents of federal legalization have hailed the victory in deeply conservative South Dakota as a testament to a widespread change in public sentiment on the issue.

  • Colorado: Proposition EE

    - Topic: Drug legalization/regulation

    More than two out of three Colorado voters chose to pass Proposition EE, which will increase the per-pack cigarette tax from 84 cents today to $2.64 by 2027. It also sets minimum price floors for a range of tobacco products and taxes nicotine vaping products. Aside from the hundreds of millions of dollars the measures are expected to raise, Prop EE was also driven by a worrisome increase in teen nicotine and tobacco use in Colorado.

  • Mississippi: Ballot Measure 1

    - Topic: Drug legalization/regulation

    Ballot Measure 1 required Mississippians to navigate a complex two-step process to choose whether to legalize medical marijuana, to approve a much stricter alternative for terminally ill patients only, or not at all. The measure passed despite the-sky-is-falling warnings from Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, who foreshadowed a Cheech-and-Chong-esque future for Mississippi with “pot shops everywhere,” “no local authority,” and “the most liberal weed rules in the U.S.!” Mississippi joins Florida and neighboring Arkansas and Louisiana as the only medical marijuana states in the South.

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  • California: Proposition 22

    - Topic: Economy and labor

    Proposition 22 was widely seen as the first shot in the coming nationwide war to regulate the gig economy, and it passed in California after earning the title of the most expensive ballot measure in the state’s history. The measure overturns a 2019 law that classified gig workers—like drivers for Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash—as full employees. While this reverts them back to independent contractor status, they also gained some protections. The ridesharing companies and their allies that supported the measure spent more than $200 million to get it passed, outspending their opponents, mostly in organized labor, by a margin of 10 to 1.