- Four states have ballot questions related to abortion and contraceptives
- Marijuana legalization will be decided by voters in at least five states this year
- Outlawing slavery and indentured servitude is also a referendum in five states
Forget waiting for Congress or state legislatures to act. This year’s midterm elections offer voters the opportunity to directly shape public policy in the form of various state ballot initiatives that address major national issues.
The country witnessed the power of these referendums when voters in Kansas, which is generally considered a safe red state, rejected an anti-abortion measure on the ballot by a decisive margin of 59% to 41%.
As the fall elections approach, 2022 voters are being asked to vote on how their states should handle termination of pregnancy, the right to contraceptives, the legalization of certain narcotics and the extension of health care coverage. Even slavery is on the ballot.
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In at least five states, voters will have to consider whether to officially abolish slavery, an issue that could lead to a national overhaul of American prison policy.
Many of these issues have stalled in Washington, where the stalemate has devoured many reform efforts.
But whether through a direct ballot initiative developed by grassroots organizations via a petition or through indirect referendums first raised by a state legislature, these measures could have major ramifications in the future. .
Here are the ballot questions to watch out for:
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Access to abortion
Kansas voters overwhelmingly chose to stand up for abortion rights in August, which emboldened progressives hoping the momentum can mobilize their base through similar ballot initiatives elsewhere.
At least three other states — California, Kentucky and Vermont — will have similar questions to ask voters. While another, Montana, is asking voters to decide the rules for a “born-alive” baby from a botched abortion.
A similar question might appear before voters in Michigan, where A coalition of reproductive rights groups this month asked the state Supreme Court to allow their proposed measure that would guarantee abortion rights in the ballot this fall.
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Proposed amendments in California and Vermont, which already have liberal state laws guaranteeing the right to abortion, encompass reproductive freedom broadly, including other protections such as guaranteed access to contraceptives.
Voters in Kentucky, a more conservative state, are urged in November to curtail abortion rights by declaring that the state constitution does not recognize such access or require the taxpayer financing of abortion.
Montana’s referendum is about whether infants born alive at any stage of development will be considered “legal persons.” If so, the proposal says, they should receive medical attention. Violators face a $50,000 fine and up to 20 years in prison.
Voters in Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont will decide whether to abolish slavery as part of a broader criminal justice reform movement targeting prison labor.
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution ended slavery and involuntary servitude when it was ratified in 1865. But a loophole allows it as punishment for someone convicted of a crime and about 20 states have an exception similar.
Most referendums ask voters to declare that no form of slavery or involuntary servitude is permitted.
Others go further, such as Alabama’s issue of removing “all racist language” from the state constitution. In Oregon, the amendment would add provisions allowing state courts or the parole agency to order alternatives to incarceration for a convicted person.
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Proponents of criminal justice reform say referendums are more than symbolic and could trigger bigger changes for those incarcerated, such as paying them higher wages for prison labor or ending forced labor.
In 2018, voters in Colorado, Nebraska and Utah mostly brought down slavery and involuntary servitude through campaign initiatives.
Laws have been introduced in California, Florida, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas to ask voters similar voting questions in future elections.
Decriminalize weed, psychedelics
Several states will give voters a say in drug policies with ballot questions on the decriminalization of marijuana and certain psychedelics.
At least five states – Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota – are seeking to legalize marijuana for residents age 21 or older.
But the provisions of some places go further.
In Missouri, the proposed amendment would decriminalize marijuana use and also allow those convicted of nonviolent cannabis-related offenses to seek early release from prison and have their criminal records expunged.
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A legal battle is still ongoing in Oklahoma over whether voters will have a chance to tackle the issue with similar reforms this fall.
Colorado has a ballot initiative asking voters if the state should define certain psychedelic plants and mushrooms as natural medicines, including mescaline.
Under the amendment, personal use, possession, transportation and growth would be legal for people age 21 or older. The changes would also create a regulatory body that would oversee licensed healing centers to administer natural medicine services.
Minimum wage, rules of the right to work
Nevada voters will have the opportunity to give workers a pay raise this fall when asked to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour for all employees.
Currently, the state floor for a person’s pay is between $9.50 and $10.50 an hour, depending on whether or not they have health insurance.
In 2019, the Nevada Legislature passed a measure increasing the minimum wage in increments without addressing the health insurance gap. The ballot question will establish a flat rate for all, regardless of their insurance status.
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Illinois voters are being urged to establish a constitutional right to collective bargaining, which would guarantee workers the right to organize a union.
On the opposite end of the political spectrum, voters in Tennessee will weigh in on approving a right to work amendment to the state constitution that would ban workplaces from requiring union membership as a condition. employment.
Expanded Medicaid, health care
One of the major debates over the Affordable Care Act a decade ago was whether states would accept or reject federal incentives to expand Medicaid eligibility.
As of this year, 38 states and the District of Columbia have done just that, with many doing so through ballot initiatives. Voters in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah, for example, did so in 2018.
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South Dakota, one of 12 states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid, will have an opportunity thanks to a coalition of health care groups that joined forces this year to push the idea to the polls.
Under the amendment, adults 18 to 65 earning incomes below 133% of the federal poverty level would receive Medicaid. That’s about $18,000 per person or $37,000 for a family of four.
Other health care issues are scattered across the country.
In Oregon, a ballot initiative would ensure that every resident “has access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care as a basic right.”
California voters will consider banning the sale of flavored tobacco products.
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