The ballot initiatives you should be paying attention to this Election Day

It’s Election Day! Perhaps more interestingly, it’s an off-year Election Day! That means that, aside from a few (very important) gubernatorial and state legislative races, the most important votes being cast are not for people, but for actual laws.

Here are a few of the initiatives I’m going to be paying especially close attention to once the polls close:

HERO (Houston): After Houston’s city council passed an Equal Rights Ordinance by a comfortable 12-5 margin, social conservatives took the measure to court, contending on procedural grounds that the bill was improperly passed. They won, forcing today’s referendum. Opponents of the bill have waged an incredibly nasty scare campaign against the bill, openly claimingwithout any evidence — that the bill will make it easier for men to enter women’s bathrooms and rape your daughter. The campaign against HERO has been vile, but it may well work, as early voting has reportedly been stronger in the more conservative parts of the city, despite the campaign supporting the measure enjoying advantages in both public opinion and fundraising. In off-year elections, stated support often doesn’t mean as much as enthusiasm; HERO wasn’t particularly controversial when it passed, but this referendum is going to come down to turnout.

Voting booth via Shutterstock

Voting booth via Shutterstock

Initiative 122 (Seattle): A ballot initiative in Seattle would dramatically reform the way the city’s candidates fund their campaigns. If passed, the city would implement a democracy voucher system modeled after proposals by Bruce Ackerman and Lawrence Lessig, giving every registered voter four $25 vouchers that they could give to qualified candidates. In order to qualify for the vouchers, candidates would have to raise a certain amount in small-dollar contributions, commit to participate in three public debates and adhere to a cap on overall spending. If passed, it has the potential to be transformative not just from a campaign finance perspective, but also from a democratic participation perspective, as it turns every citizen into a potential donor with more at stake in the election itself — regardless as to how they choose to allocate their democracy vouchers.

Issue 1 (Maine): Ranked Choice Voting will be on the ballot in Maine next year, but this year the state will vote on whether to tighten its rules for campaign finance disclosure via the “Clean Elections” initiative. If passed, additional money would be allocated to the Maine Clean Elections Fund (the funds would be raised by eliminating corporate tax exemptions), and penalties for violating campaign finance disclosure rules would be increased. Additionally, advertisements and campaign communications would be required to disclose the campaign committee’s top three funders — a rule that works remarkably well in other states.

Issues 1, 2 and 3 (Ohio): Ohio’s got a whole slate of important referenda on the ballot today. And while all three represent what would normally be considered progressive priorities — Issue 1 is for redistricting reform, Issue 2 bans market monopolies and Issue 3 would legalize recreational marijuana — progressives are divided on whether they want the first and third of these initiatives to succeed.

As Stephen Wolf has outlined in great detail over at Daily Kos Elections, Ohio’s Issue 1 may reform the state’s redistricting process, but not in a way that actually prevents gerrymandered districts. Rather than establishing a non-partisan redistricting board, as Arizona did recently with relative success, it merely expands the partisan board it currently has, along with allowing contested maps to be reconsidered after four years under the same process. In other words, the state’s legislature — elected to gerrymandered districts — can still draw a gerrymandered map, and if that map passes without unanimous approval it is then reconsidered four years later…by basically the same legislature. Ohio (and the country) needs redistricting reform, but it can do better.

As far as Issue 3 goes, yes it makes recreational marijuana legal (woo!) but it does so by creating an system in which licenses for the production and sale of the drug are essentially limited to the people bankrolling the campaign (boo!). This being the case, marijuana activists are divided over whether to support this bill, or whether to wait until next year and pass a cleaner, freer version — a referendum that would no doubt be aided by presidential-year turnout.

What’s more, should Issues 2 and 3 both pass, the former would likely invalidate the latter, as the voters would have just voted to ban monopolies and enact a de-facto monopoly.

This morning’s Politico Playbook proudly proclaimed that Election Day is just 53 weeks from today. It literally could not be more wrong. Election Day is today. There are tons of important elections going on today that will have tangible effects on the lives of millions of Americans.

So if you haven’t already, go vote.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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2 Responses to “The ballot initiatives you should be paying attention to this Election Day”

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  2. Skye Winspur says:

    So, in Ohio, Issue 2 would ban market monopolies and Issue 3 would create a market monopoly for marijuana… great.

    I’m very proud of Seattle – they continue to be at the cutting edge of urban progressivism.

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