With the 2016 presidential election just over a year away, Americans headed to the polls yesterday. While no federal candidates were on the ballot, there were a number of important state and local positions up for grab. Kentucky and Mississippi chose new governors, while voters in Philadelphia and other major cities selected mayors and other local officials.
Voters in some states also had the opportunity to vote on various ballot initiatives and referenda. Twenty-six states allow their citizens to directly vote on state legislation in one form or another; indeed, many impactful pieces of legislation have been enacted this way. While some initiatives and referenda up for consideration yesterday dealt with mundane issues, there were a handful of constitutionally significant measures.
OHIO – Issue 1 (PASSED – 71% For, 29% Against)
Issue 1 is an amendment to the Ohio Constitution that “create[s] a bipartisan, public process for drawing legislative districts.” Currently, a partisan five-member board draws the legislative districts in Ohio; with the passage of this amendment, a seven-member, bipartisan redistricting commission will be established. The new commission will approve 10-year plans which will need to be approved by members of both parties. The amendment also bans districting plans that clearly favor one party over another.
Similar amendments were considered twice in the past and rejected, but this time, broad bipartisan support and strong support from voting-rights groups secured its passage.
OHIO – Issue 3 (REJECTED – 36% For, 64% Against)
Issue 3 would have “legalize[d] the limited sale and use of marijuana and create[d] 10 facilities with exclusive commercial rights.” It would have allowed anyone over 21 to purchase, possess and use up to one ounce of marijuana for recreational use, and would have been the second ballot measure in the nation, after Oregon, to legalize adult marijuana use.
While popular support for marijuana legalization has grown in recent years, perhaps the most controversial aspect of this measure was that it would have granted 10 facilities exclusive rights to sell marijuana. Opposition to the measure included groups opposed to legalization in general, as well as those who supported ending marijuana prohibition but opposed the monopoly that have been established.
In reaction to this concern, Ohio residents also voted on—and approved—Issue 2, which bans measures establishing monopolies from appearing on the ballot. Prior to Election Day, there was debate over what exactly would have happened if both Issues 2 and 3 had been approved.
MAINE – Question 1 (PASSED – 55% Yes, 45% No)
Question 1 augments the Maine Clean Election Act—it increases public funds available for state elections, increases penalties for violating campaign finance disclosure rules, and allows candidates to quality for additional public funds. Currently, only 13 states provide public funding for candidates running for state office; with the passing of this measure, a candidate in Maine can elect to receive public funding if they stop raising private money for their campaign. The funds available to the candidates are raised through an elimination of state corporate tax breaks. Groups not directly affiliated with candidates that spend private money for campaign ads are required to disclose their top three donors in any ad they run.
Proponents of the initiative said that it will increase transparency and strengthen democratic processes, while opponents said that big-money groups will still have power while taxpayers will be forced to fund elections with their tax dollars.
MISSISSIPPI – Initiative 42 and Alternative 42 (REJECTED – 48% Approval, 52% Against)
These two competing measures caused some confusion, but both dealt with public school funding in Mississippi. Initiative 42 would have required the state to “protect each child’s fundamental right to educational opportunity” and maintain and support an “adequate and efficient system of free public schools,” which state courts would enforce. Alternative 42 would have adopted different language, mandating that the state “provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an effective system of public schools.” At the polls, voters decided whether they wanted either of these initiatives to pass, and then which version they preferred, regardless of their answer to the first question.
The main debate between proponents of Initiative 42 and Alternative 42 was over the role of the state courts, for only Initiative 42 would have given the courts the power to enforce the mandate. Another point of contention was the establishment of a right to education, which only Initiative 42 would have created.
TEXAS – Proposition 6 (PASSED – 81% In Favor, 19% Against)
This amendment to the Texas state constitution recognizes the right of the people to “hunt, fish and harvest wildlife subject to laws that promote wildlife conservation.” Eighteen states currently have constitutional guarantees for the right to hunt and fish, and Indiana will vote on a similar measure in 2016. Supporters of the initiative said that this amendment is an important safeguard to promote conservation and protect activities that are inherent to Texas state culture.
While there was no strong opposition to the content of the amendment, some Texans thought that this right does not need to be included in the state’s constitution. PETA representatives called the amendment “bizarre and frivolous,” while a Texas lawmaker said that including these kinds of rights demeans the state constitution.
Jonathan Stahl is an intern at the National Constitution Center. He is also a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in politics, philosophy and economics.
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