The next chapter of America’s post-Roe, pro-weed, tax-the-rich movement is coming

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Abortion. Guns. Psychedelics.

As Americans determine who controls the House and Senate next month, more than 130 ballot initiatives will be in front of voters across the nation. Some will decide who can legally smoke weed and use “magic mushrooms,” whether to increase taxes on the rich or remove slavery from a state constitution.

Abortion promises to dominate the ballot box after the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade this summer, steering the battle over reproductive rights deeper into states. For half a century, most action around abortion took place inside statehouses, where legislators sought to test Roe’s boundaries. Now Americans are weighing in on the issue directly.

After Kansas voters rebuffed an attempt in August to remove abortion protections from their constitution, five more states — all together, a record — will consider ballot initiatives designed to either limit access to the procedure or establish it as a right.

“What we’re seeing at the ballots in 2022 is a reflection of the cares and concerns of communities that people really want the government to address,” said Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, executive director of the progressive Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.

Whatever ballot initiatives pass — or fail — this year will set a roadmap for 2024, putting pressure on those pushing to pass proposals like a millionaire’s tax in Massachusetts or limits on interest rates for medical debt in Arizona.

Legalizing recreational marijuana is another big policy trend. Nineteen states already allow adults to purchase weed, but many of the places where it’s up for a vote this fall are in Republican-held territory, marking the final frontier for legalization advocates who have made little headway with conservative legislatures.

And a year after state legislators made sweeping changes to their election laws — some increasing voter access, others restricting it — citizens in six states will decide whether to enforce term limits, allow noncitizens to vote and overhaul their voting process.

Here are the ballot measures voters will face that are poised to make the biggest splash on Nov. 8:

The era of abortion ballot measures kicks off

Democrats are banking on abortion as the driving issue for voters this November, framing their midterm strategy on people turning out in droves to protect access while Republicans center their attention on crime and the teetering economy.

Kansas voters set the tone this cycle when they overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment this summer that would have allowed state lawmakers to ban abortion. Now, voters in five other states will have their turn. A measure similar to the failed Kansas initiative is under consideration in Kentucky, while voters in California, Michigan and Vermont will be asked to establish a constitutional right to the procedure.

In Montana, a ballot measure seeks to declare that an embryo or fetus is a legal person with a right to medical care. It would impose a felony criminal penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $50,000 fine on any health care worker who doesn’t intervene in the event an unsuccessful abortion results in a live birth.

After voters weigh in on ballot measures, abortion is certain to be a top-tier issue for state legislatures returning early next year — and a regular flashpoint between voters, lawmakers, the courts and activists for years to come.

Elections and government

Top five: Voting for just one party or candidate is increasingly going out of style. New York City, Alaska and Maine — among dozens of other cities across the U.S. — have established ranked choice voting in the past two decades, letting voters list their top picks for a single office.

Nevadans hoping to follow Alaska and Maine’s example will have the opportunity to vote on a ranked-choice system and establish open primaries. Voters could cast a primary ballot without party affiliation and rank five candidates during general elections.

A ballot measure in Nevada this fall would open up the closed party primaries to the one-third of voters in the state who don’t identify as Republicans or Democrats. While the measure polled well with voters in August, prominent Democrats, including Gov. Steve Sisolak and Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), have voiced strong opposition.

Citizens only: Ohioians are being asked to weigh in on the Citizenship Voting Requirement Amendment, which seeks to bar municipal governments from allowing noncitizens to participate in local elections. New York City is the only major city to pass a law letting noncitizens vote — though a judge has put it on hold — along with about a dozen towns across the country. But after the Ohio village of Yellow Springs passed a measure in 2019 attempting to join them, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Republican legislators moved to intercept. Five other states already include language in their constitutions to explicitly ban noncitizens from voting.

Misc.: North Dakotans will vote on creating term limits for governor and state legislators, while Oregonians could decide to excuse their lawmakers for “unexplained absenteeism.” The latter measure aims to stop Republicans from using walkouts or mass absences to block legislation, reports the Oregon Capital Chronicle — something GOP lawmakers did in 2019, 2020 and 2021 to stall votes on legislation related to guns and climate change, and to protest Covid-19 restrictions.

Tennesseans will decide whether to lift a ban on letting religious ministers run for state office, while Wyoming voters may raise the retirement age for judges from 70 to 75.

Slavery

The 13th Amendment prohibits slavery, with one notable clause: “except as a punishment for crime.” Nineteen states still have some version of that language in their constitution — and five are looking to cut it this year. The protests against police brutality that broke out across the country after the killing of George Floyd in 2020 created an opening to push several states to revisit vestiges of slavery and discrimination legislators had rarely been moved to address. Now, Alabama, Louisiana, Vermont, Oregon and Tennessee are positioned to remove language that allows slavery or indentured servitude as legal punishments.

Some activists hope that renewed conversation about such exceptions will extend to requiring people in prison and correctional facilities to be paid for their labor — a discussion that came about in other states that did away with the clause like Colorado in 2018 and Nebraska in 2020.

Labor and wages

Pay raises: Congress hasn’t increased the federal minimum wage since 2009, but every election cycle sees a handful of states raise their own floor. This year, Nebraskans will consider establishing their first: a $15 per hour minimum by 2026. And Nevadans are looking at boosting theirs from $10.50 per hour to $12 by 2024.

Washington, D.C., saw its minimum wage for non-tipped employees increase to $16.10 per hour in July, when a 2016 ballot initiative took effect. While that measure also boosted wages to $5.35 per hour for jobs centered on tips, voters are now being asked whether both should be $16.10.

Organized labor: Tennessee — one of 27 states that prohibits obligatory union membership — will hold a ballot referendum to codify the ban in the state constitution. But Illinois is seeking to expand those rights: voters could decide to add language giving employees the right to collectively organize and bargain, and prohibit laws that negate that right.

Taxing the wealthy

The “tax the rich” progressive movement is facing a major test with proposals in three states. Revenue gathered from hikes on high-income earners in Colorado, Massachusetts and California would go toward providing kids with universal free school meals, boosting education and transportation spending and fund electric vehicle infrastructure.

The Massachusetts “millionaire’s tax” proposal would impose a 4 percent surtax on personal income of more than $1 million — a plan projected to generate an estimated $2 billion a year in new revenue that would go toward education and transportation. Getting this question in front of voters has been a long, expensive process that is now a defining issue for the state this election year. 

In California, Proposition 30 would tax wealthy residents to supply financial incentives for others to buy electric vehicles. It also directs money to EV charging stations and wildfire prevention.

A measure in Colorado would create a program to provide free school meals to all students, paid for by limiting state income deductions on households with high incomes.

Guns

Oregon voters will vote on Measure 114, which would put local law enforcement in charge of issuing firearm permits, establishing stronger background checks and record-keeping laws, and bans magazines with more than 10 rounds. The state would also have to create a firearms database.

To the east, Iowans will decide whether to add the right to own and bear firearms to the state constitution and “require strict scrutiny for any alleged violations of the right brought before a court.” The state does not currently have any language concerning guns in the Iowa Constitution. Republican legislators loosened Iowa’s gun laws in recent years, moving to be a permitless open and concealed carry state for those 21 and over last year.

“Magic mushrooms”

Colorado may become the second state to allow the consumption of psychedelics if a measure this fall to legalize hallucinogenic compounds passes. Psilocybin has been heralded by legalization advocates and researchers for its potential to treat mental health issues like depression, anxiety and PTSD. Support among military veterans has helped energize statehouses across the nation to legalize and further explore the drug.

Proposition 112 would create a legal access program for adults over 21 to use psilocybin in a state-regulated setting with trained supervisors. Personal use of certain hallucinogens would also be decriminalized, allowing people to grow, give and consume the substances.

If the initiative passes, the state could also establish similar programs for other psychedelics like DMT, mescaline and ibogaine starting in 2026.

Denver paved the way for legalization after voters agreed to partially decriminalize psilocybin three years ago. Washington, D.C., Oakland, Calif., and Seattle have since taken similar steps. Oregon was the first state to do so in 2020.

Dreamers and college tuition

Undocumented students in Arizona would be guaranteed in-state college tuition the if hotly-debated Proposition 308 passes.

The ballot measure would allow all students who attended high school in the state for at least two years to qualify for in-state tuition and financial aid regardless of legal status, repealing a measure voters overwhelmingly approved in 2006. The status quo requires undocumented students to pay three times as much as legal in-state residents to attend Arizona colleges and universities.

More than 20 states, including deeply red Florida, Utah and Texas, offer in-state tuition rates to Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

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