Why Vote This Fall

Trillions - - Table Of Contents - By Brad Red­der­son

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.

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