Why Vote This Fall
There is more at stake in this fall’s elections than the White House.
One of the most powerful aspects of a democracy is the right to vote. People have fought to get it, through protests and lawsuits and intense lobbying. Others have fought to prevent those legally entitled to vote by requiring everything from literacy tests to unusual residency requirements to photo identification cards. Hispanic and African Americans often were among the most often targeted to keep them from the voter rolls.
Yet in spite of how hard people fought for and over that right to vote, many still do not show up at the polls or even vote by mail on election day. Sometimes the reason is the choices at the top, the Presidential contenders, are between two people who a substantial percentage of the American public does not like. That is the current case as of this writing, with negative perceptions in many states significantly larger than positive ones.
The reality is that in many cases, just as one of our interviewees said elsewhere in this issue, the vote at the top often means less change than one might hope for, even in the best of cases. Instead, getting involved with local campaigns including local city council, judge, county, and mayoral races is a far better bet to see change in daily life.
There is also one more voting category that also deserves more attention than it often gets: state and local ballot measures. These votes, which when counted have the power of law, are sometimes referred to locally as referendums or initiatives. These are also an example of – in America at least – that rare thing referred to as direct democracy.
This year there are plenty of these to consider. As of the end of June, 95 statewide ballot measures had been approved for consideration directly by the voters. And while there are some state-specific ones that will be of interest locally there are also some national trends worth mentioning.
One major topic area is the Legalization or Decriminalization of Marijuana. It has already been allowed in a number of areas, most notably perhaps in Colo- rado where recreational use is okay and the law has been in place long enough for local officials to understand trends. Some states, like Ohio, already voted on this and against it. For 2016, however, Florida, Maine, and Nevada have had measures pending for November 8 for some time. And just a short while ago California had enough signatures to get a decriminalization proposal on the fall ballot.
A second major trend involves measures to Raise the Minimum Wage. For small-to-medium business enterprises raising the minimum wage is an important concern, depending on the nature of the business being operated. Currently the only state measures of this kind are in Maine and South Dakota, but there are more local measures constantly going before City Councils and likely to appear regionally. In Santa Monica, California, for example, the minimum wage was earlier approved to rise effective July 1.
A third major category involves Healthcare, and while currently only three in number at the state level, the ones already approved for the ballots are significant.
In California, there is the “Drug Price Relief Act” Initiative. If passed, as the ballot summary says, it “Prohibits state agencies from paying more for a prescription drug than the lowest price paid for the same drug by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Applies to any program where the state is the ultimate payer for a drug, even if the state does not purchase the drug directly. Exempts certain purchases of prescription drugs funded through Medi-cal.” As one can guess, the pharmaceutical companies are not happy about this one.
California also has a second Healthcare initiative coming November 8, the “Medi-cal Hospital Reimbursement Initiative.” As proposed for the voters, it effectively makes it very difficult for the legislature or others to change how Medi-cal fees apply. If passed, a two-thirds majority would be necessary to divert Medi-cal fees from current Medi-cal health care services, children’s health services and uninsured patient care.
The third major Healthcare measure on the ballot, Colorado’s “Initiative 20”, also called the “State Health Care System Initiative, Amendment 69”, is a politically charged one. If passed, it would create Coloradocare, the first state-level single-payer healthcare system in the country. The ballot measure itself is long and complex as it will appear on the ballot, but the implications of passage are big.
The fourth category of initiatives involves Gun Control. While only three states have such measures ready for the voters this fall, with the horrific Orlando shootings still echoing across the nation and more shootings happening every week, more are likely coming. The current state-level ones that have been recorded so far are:
California’s “Safety for All Initiative”, which prohibits possession of large-capacity magazines, requires background checks, forces major restrictions on ammunition sales, and has numerous other provisions. Maine’s “Background Checks for Gun Sales Initiative”, which, according to the measure, “requires a background check before a firearm sale or transfer between individuals not licensed as firearms dealers”. There is more to this measure as well.
Nevada’s “Gun Purchase Background Checks Initiative”, has some similarities to the proposed Maine law above. As it says, “Under current law, federally licensed gun dealers are required to perform criminal and public safety background checks on buyers before transferring guns to them. However, due to a loophole in the law, a background check is not required when a person obtains a gun from an unlicensed seller, making it easier for felons, domestic abusers, and other dangerous people to buy guns. This initiative requires that an unlicensed person who wishes to sell or transfer a firearm to another person conduct the transfer through a licensed gun dealer who runs a background check on the potential buyer or transferee.”
Beyond these four major areas, there are many other ballot measures that may also be of interest across the country. Here’s a sampling of what’s coming:
Alabama: The “State Parks Fund Amendment”, which prohibits reallocating state park funds for other uses. California: The “Plastic Bag Ban Referendum”, which prohibits the use of single-use carryout bags in many retail establishments.”
California: “Death Penalty Repeal”, which does just what it says: repeals the death penalty in the state. Florida: “Amendment 1”, which grants Florida residents the right to own or lease equipment that produces solar energy for personal use.
Illinois: “Transportation Funds Amendment”, which prevents lawmakers from diverting transportation funds to anything other than their stated purpose.
Maine: “Transportation Bond”, which issues $100 million in bonds for transportation projects.
Minnesota: “Legislative Pay Council Amendment”, which creates an independent board that sets the pay of legislators. This is as opposed to allowing legislators to set their own pay, a quite normal practice.
Missouri: “Voter ID Amendment”, which allows the legislature to require voter IDS in public elections.
Nebraska: “Death Penalty Repeal Referendum”, a second look at the previous repeal of the elimination of the death penalty. This referendum could bring it back.
New Jersey: “Gas Tax Amendment”, which dedicates all revenue from gas taxes to transportation projects.
North Dakota: “Expansion of Rights for Crime Victims Initiative”.
Oklahoma: “State Question 790”, which repeals part of the Oklahoma Constitution, a part that has so far prohibited public money to be spent for religious purposes.
Virginia: “Right to Work” Amendment, which makes mandatory membership in a labor union illegal in the state.
Washington: “Restoring the Voice of We the People” Initiative, which has no direct authority, but urges a federal constitutional amendment that would overturn the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court case. The proposal is for an amendment that limits constitutional rights to people, not corporations.
There are many more of these, but hopefully in one or more of them many reading this can see good reason to show up at this fall’s elections – even if they have no interest in voting for any of the Presidential candidates.