Voters chose more than just the president: A review of important state ballot initiative outcomes
With enormous attention focused—understandably—on the outcome of the presidential and congressional races on November 3, it’s easy to forget that voters also decided on nearly 6,000 state legislative races and a host of ballot measures in states and localities, including many with important implications for workers, economic justice, racial equity, and the fight against climate change.
There were 120 statewide measures considered by voters across the country. In this post, we briefly highlight some of the notable measures that would have a meaningful impact on the welfare of workers, families, and communities; the power of workers and communities to have a voice in economic policy decisions; and the ability of all people to achieve economic security, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender. We also call attention to the advocacy and research of Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN) members in these states, whose work in many cases was critical in explaining the implications of the measures for workers, families, and communities.
State legislative control
Republicans controlled 59 legislative chambers entering the election on November 3, with total control of the state house and governor’s seat in 21 states—22 if you include Nebraska, which officially has a “nonpartisan” unicameral legislature and a Republican governor. Thus far they have not lost control of those previously controlled bodies (results in Arizona are still pending). Additionally, they have picked up both the House and the Senate in New Hampshire, giving Republicans total control in 23 states. Democrats control the state house and governor’s seat in 15 states, while 12 states have divided governance.
In addition to determining who has the ability to set the policy agenda in each state, these results are significant because they also determine which party has control in next year’s redistricting process. Only a handful of states have independent redistricting commissions to draft and implement electoral district maps without partisan design, meaning that we can expect some state legislatures to gerrymander their districts. Sadly, this type of gerrymandering has been used aggressively in the past by Republican lawmakers to suppress the voices of particular groups, especially communities of color.
Florida: With over 60% of the vote, Florida voters passed Amendment 2, which will raise the state minimum wage to $15.00 per hour by 2026. The amendment will raise the minimum wage to $10.00 per hour effective September 2021, with a continuing annual increase until the minimum wage reaches $15.00 per hour. EARN’s Florida partner, the Florida Policy Institute, estimates the measure will lift pay for 2.5 million Floridians.
California: Proposition 22 passed, allowing app-based transportation and delivery companies, such as Uber and Lyft, to classify drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. By doing so, these companies will avoid paying Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid taxes for these workers, and the workers will lose protections that come with traditional employment status—notably access to unemployment insurance, overtime protection, and the ability to form a union.
Paid family and medical leave
Colorado: Proposition 118 passed, establishing a paid family and medical leave program that will provide workers in the state with 12 weeks of paid family leave (and 16 weeks for the birth of a child) funded through a payroll tax levied on employers and employees in a 50/50 split. The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world without a national paid leave program. With the passage of Proposition 118, Colorado joins 12 other states and dozens of cities that have established their own leave programs. EARN partners—the Bell Policy Center, the Colorado Fiscal Institute, and the Colorado Center on Law and Policy—supported the measure.
Illinois: The Fair Tax Amendment, which would have put in a place a progressive graduated state income tax, did not pass; the state will maintain its flat income tax. Virtually every state is facing a severe budget crisis as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Without the added revenue from the measure, the state may be forced to cut public-sector jobs and services, further hampering the economic recovery and likely disproportionately harming women and workers of color. An EARN partner, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, supported the measure and said it would help the Illinois fiscal system respond better to the modern economy while promoting tax fairness.
California: Proposition 15 in California failed. The measure would have eliminated the state’s cap on commercial property tax increases, which limits annual property tax increases at 2%, no matter the increase in the property’s value. The tax cap has allowed major corporations to pay only modest annual property tax increases, even as the value of their commercial properties in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and elsewhere have—in some cases—doubled or even tripled. EARN partner The California Budget and Policy Center has explained how Proposition 15 would have helped schools and local communities because they currently lose revenue under California’s inequitable taxing of commercial properties.
Proposition 19 passed, changing tax rules for property tax transfers so that persons over age 55 and those severely disabled may transfer their tax base to a new property, up to three times. The measure also closed a loophole that allowed property to be transferred between parents and children without being reassessed. Now this exclusion will apply only to primary residences. The California Budget and Policy Center concludes the measure may generate slightly more revenue on net, but it will complicate the state’s tax policy and reinforce racial inequities without helping the state’s housing crisis.
Arizona: Proposition 208 passed, establishing a 3.5% additional income tax on personal incomes above $250,000 for single filers or $500,000 for joint filers. The revenue from the measure will be dedicated to increasing funding for teachers and schools. The Arizona Center for Economic Progress and the Grand Canyon Institute, EARN’s partners in Arizona, both published analyses showing the impact and importance of the measure.
Louisiana: Amendment 5 failed. If it had passed, the state constitution would have been amended to authorize local governments to enter into special property tax break agreements with manufacturing corporations, allowing them to make special payments to the taxing authority in lieu of regular property taxes. The Louisiana Budget Project, EARN’s Louisiana partner, explains that this dangerous measure would have threatened critical funding for local communities and shifted the tax burden more onto residents.
Nebraska: Initiative 428 passed, capping payday lenders’ rates at 36% annually.
Voting rights and democracy reform
Colorado: Proposition 113 passed, making Colorado the 15th state to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. The Compact would give the state’s nine electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote if states representing at least 270 Electoral College votes adopt the compact.
Massachusetts: Question 2 did not pass. It proposed creating ranked choice voting for all state and federal elections in Massachusetts.
Mississippi: Ballot Measure 2 passed, which removes the requirement that a candidate for governor or state office receive the highest number of votes in a majority of the state’s 122 House districts in addition to a majority of the popular vote. Previously, if no candidates met both thresholds, the state House of Representatives would choose a winner. Measure 2 replaces this with a runoff election process. Passage of the measure eliminates a discriminatory, Jim Crow–era political structure that was designed to limit the influence of Black voters in the state’s governance.
Missouri: Amendment 3 passed, eliminating the state’s nonpartisan redistricting process and shifting the drawing of legislative districts from a nonpartisan demographer to a bipartisan commission appointed by the governor. Because the commission’s members will be appointed with equal numbers from the state’s two political parties, plus four members appointed by the governor, it will effectively allow the governor’s party to draw the state’s legislative districts. Republicans control both chambers of the Missouri legislature and the governor’s seat, meaning they may cement control over the state legislature for the next decade by gerrymandering the district maps.
Virginia: Virginia Question 1 (Redistricting Commission Amendment) passed, establishing a bipartisan redistricting commission to draw political boundaries in the commonwealth. This amendment will transfer the power to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts from the state legislature to a redistricting commission made up of a bipartisan group of state legislators and citizens. While taking the process out of the legislature may be helpful, it would have been better if the measure had included stronger provisions for diverse and equitable representation, protections for voters of color, and a ban on gerrymandering.
California: Proposition 17 passed, amending the constitution to allow people with felonies on parole to vote. The ballot measure keeps imprisonment as a disqualification for voting but removes parole status. In doing so, the measure will restore the right to vote to an estimated 50,000 citizens in California. EARN partner Center on Policy Initiatives, supported this measure because it would reverse a form of voter suppression and expand voting rights to people on parole from state prison.
Clean energy and infrastructure
Nevada: Question 6 passed, requiring that all utility providers acquire 50% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. This ballot initiative was initially passed in 2018, but Nevada law requires a second vote before a measure can amend the state constitution. The change brings more clean energy to Nevada and is an important step toward 100% renewable portfolio standards and addressing climate change.
Cities across the country: Several cities passed measures creating new dedicated revenue for public transit investment. These cities include Austin, Texas; San Antonio, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Fairfax, Virginia; San Francisco, California; and Seattle, Washington.
Oklahoma: State question 805 did not pass. If it had, it would have prohibited a person’s conviction history, in the case of prior “non-violent” felonies, from being used to extend future prison sentences and would have provided for greater sentence modifications for eligible persons. The Oklahoma Policy Institute, EARN’s Oklahoma partner, explains that the measure would have been a major step forward toward a more balanced approach to criminal justice.
California: Proposition 21 failed. The measure would have allowed local governments to enact or expand rent control measures and increased renter protections to prevent discrimination on buildings more than 15 years old. Though not a comprehensive solution to the state’s long-standing housing crisis, an expansion of rent control would have helped many renters continue to afford to live in their homes and prevent further evictions and displacement, especially among people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities in low-income communities. The Center on Policy Initiatives supported the measure because of the excessive rents and low wages that have left many communities throughout California vulnerable to houselessness.