What's a ballot initiative?
Ballot initiatives are a form of direct democracy. They are vehicles through which a petition signed by registered voters can force a public vote on a proposed statute, constitutional amendment, charter amendment or ordinance. They are the way that citizens can most directly influence politics at the state and local level.
Sometimes, ballot initiatives are not beneficial to a state. They are often deceptively named, which confuses voters as to what position the legislation takes. While most people can now recognize that “defense of marriage” initiatives are anti-LGBT, some proposed initiatives such as proposed “voter identification” rules continue to baffle voters.
While there are many important ballot initiative campaigns taking place this year, we have highlighted a few to watch during the next several months. These particular issues are bound to be raised in the national election as well, so take a look! Your state may have similar initiatives on the ballot; find out what they are and when the voting takes place, and get out to the polls!\
As the last of the results continue to trickle in, here is a quick look at the outcomes of some of the ballot initiatves we have discussed in the course of this election cycle:
Voters defeated Michigan’s 2011 emergency manager law that allowed the state to appoint managers for municipalities and school districts deemed to be in fiscal emergencies and then allowed those emergency managers summarily to throw out previously agreed-upon collective bargaining agreements and unilaterally impose policy. There is some disagreement about whether a previous 1990 statute which established emergency managers will now be in effect. This earlier law did not permit the nullification of collective bargaining.
California’s voters passed Proposition 30, an initiative backed by Governor Jerry Brown to increase personal income taxes for seven years on those earning over $250,000. The tax issue, that will raise $6 billion annually, passed by a large margin—54 percent to 46 percent. The new revenues will prevent massive additional cuts to the state’s public schools and universities and will help balance the budget.
Voters in Maryland passed a version of the DREAM Act to allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at Maryland’s public colleges.
Voters in Indiana defeated state school superintendent Tony Bennett, who—along with Governor Mitch Daniels—has been a darling of the American Legislative Exchange Council because he has worked to increase emphasis on student test scores, blame teachers, implement state takeovers of struggling schools, and rapidly expand charterization.
Voters in Idaho overturned three ballot issues known as the Luna Laws, named for state school superintendent Tom Luna. According to education historian, Diane Ravitch, “The Luna Laws imposed a mandate for online courses for high school graduates..., made test scores the measure of teacher quality, provided bonuses for teachers whose students got higher scores, removed all teacher rights, eliminated anything resembling tenure or seniority, turned teachers into at-will employees, and squashed the teachers’ unions.” Fully 67 percent of voters rejected the mandate that every high school student have a laptop and earn online credits.
In Florida, citizens voted to protect religious liberty by rejecting Amendment 8 to Florida’s constitution. Amendment 8 would have removed the Florida constitutional provision that prohibits the use of vouchers at religious schools.
In two states, voters approved measures that will rapidly expand charters and undermine funding for public education. Georgia voters voted to establish a state commission to authorize charter schools, and even to override the will of the local school board in cases where the local school board does not concur. In the state of Washington which has till now not permitted charter schools, citizens voted to permit the authorization of charter schools either by the local school board or a state commission to authorize charter schools.
The Minnesota initiative to define marriage as between one man and one woman was defeated, as was the proposed voter ID legislation.
In Missouri, the proposed voter ID initiative actually never made it onto the ballot; it had been defeated in the spring.
Montana’s abortion amendment was passed (requiring parental notification of a minor’s planned abortion,)
Thanks for getting out and voting about these important issues!
Guidelines for Working on Ballot Initiatves
Nonprofit organizations CAN legally engage in work on ballot initiatives. According to the Alliance for Justice, generally a nonprofit can:
- Publicly endorse or oppose ballot measures;
- Propose ballot measures;
- Draft language for ballot measures;
- Organize volunteers to gather signatures on petitions;
- Send staff to gather signatures or conduct other ballot measure campaign work;
- Contribute money to ballot measure campaigns;
- Host ballot measure campaign events in their facilities; and
Download guidelines on how you can legally engage in this work!
Key Ballot Initiatves for 2012
Here are some of the key ballot initiatives before voters in 2012:
‘Defense of marriage’ initiatives: These ballot initiatives, often in the form of constitutional amendments proposed by state legislatures, seek to define marriage as between one man and one woman. This is hurtful and harmful to the LGBTQ community, as it deprives them of important legal benefits and also sends the message that ‘you are not welcome in this state unless you love who we tell you to love.’
Voter identification initiatives: Unfortunately, many people assume that everyone has access to a government issued ID. It may be difficult, at first glance to understand why proposed voter identification requirements could be harmful. However, these initiatives end up disenfranchising thousands of people who do not have access to valid identification. Whole populations of the elderly, whose government I.D. may have expired years ago, new citizens waiting on their documentation and identification, and the urban poor, who may have never had need for a driver’s license or other form of ID, are left unable to vote. Their voices are silenced. Voter ID laws are deceptive ways politicians can undermine the ability to vote of those populations that are most vulnerable and have a great deal at stake in the elections.
Anti-Choice initiatives: A woman’s right to choose is still a hot debate topic in our society. Who may already have limited access to jobs, health care, child care, transportation and housing. Anti-choice ballot initiatives before the states ranging from parental consent for minors to “right to know” legislation which can lead to extremes such as intrusive medical procedures by health professionals when pregnancies are not far along enough to require proper sonograms.
‘Religious Freedom’ Initiatives: Religious freedom is an issue that has been imperative to our country since its founding. We have enshrined religious freedom in the Constitution, and it is upheld by every court in the nation. Why, then, are amendments to state constitutions proposed to further protect religious freedom? In short, these proposed amendments are attempts by some groups within the faith community to infuse particular religious beliefs into government policy.
Anti-immigration initiatives: After the most recent defeat of the DREAM Act on the federal level, which would provide undocumented students the opportunity to attend college at in-state tuitions and give them a path to citizenship, some states passed a state-level DREAM Act measures. These state laws can only guarantee in-state tuition, not a path to citizenship, and are often fairly restrictive in the students they cover. However, opponents of immigrant rights propose repeals to these modest measures, claiming that a state DREAM Act would bankrupt the budget, and is a poor investment when there is the chance these students will be deported.
The North Carolina legislature (both the House and the Senate) proposed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between only a man and a woman. Read full text.
On May 8, 2012 citizens voted to accept the amendment to the state’s constitution. You can read more about how one church, High Country UCC, engaged in the debate against this measure.
The Minnesota legislature has put forth two proposed ballot initiatives for the November 6, 2012 elections. Like North Carolina, one of them is a proposed constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. Read full text..
The initiative was passed by the Minnesota House of Representatives, but stalled in the senate.
The other key initiative on the ballot in Minnesota is a proposed amendment to the state constitution on voter identification. Read full text.. Although offering the proposed amendment on the ballot was agreed on by both the Minnesota House of Representatives and the Senate, it was opposed by Governor Dayton.
Missouri has also proposed a voter identification amendment to be added to the state constitution. Read full text. (section 9). Residents of Missouri can turn out to the November 6, 2012 election to vote on this proposal.
The proposed measure was passed in the Missouri House of Representatives and the Senate, but it was symbolically vetoed by Governor Nixon.
The state legislature of Montana has proposed a ballot initiative for the November 6, 2012 election that is a legislatively-referred state statute requiring parents to be notified that their minor daughter was planning on having an abortion. Read full text..
The state legislature of North Dakota has proposed an initiative that will appear on the June 12, 2012 primary ballot. The initiative in question is a constitutional amendment that calls for greater “religious freedom” protection. This is a prime example of how convoluted language confuses our knowledge of what we are deciding. Rather than protect religious freedom – which is already protected under the United States Constitution – this amendment would essentially allow for discrimination based on individual religious beliefs. Likely targets of such religious discrimination would be LGBT people, pro-choice advocates, and others who have been marginalized by the church. Read full text and get out to vote!
The state of Maryland has proposed a referendum that would repeal the Maryland DREAM Act, which allows in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants who reside in the state of Maryland. Read about the referendum, and get out to vote on November 6, 2012!
Here are some nonpartisan web sites where you can track ballot initiatives that are moving in your state:
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