This year, 129 measures were on ballots, according to Josh Altic, Ballotpedia's expert on the referendum process. Eighty-nine of them were approved and some others were still too close to call. Measures can get on a ballot via a state legislature and when citizens or advocacy groups gather enough signatures to qualify for a vote of the electorate.
During primary elections last summer, Missouri and Oklahoma citizens voted to expand Medicaid. Most states have expanded Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act through a vote by the legislature. Only 12 states now have not expanded their programs.
Here a look at some measures that were decided this fall.
Caregiving and family leave
Colorado voters overwhelmingly passed a trust fund to cover family leave benefits. Workers will pay into the fund through payroll taxes and then be eligible to take paid time off for illness or to care for a loved one. A worker earning $1,000 a week and their employer will each pay about $4.50 a week toward the trust fund. Workers who need the benefit would be eligible for up to $1,100 a week in benefits beginning in 2024.
The landslide vote in Colorado was testament to how important sick and family leave are in the middle of a pandemic, said Elaine Ryan, AARP vice president of government affairs. “People are choosing between caring for their mom and losing their job. Measures like family leave are a powerful recognition and support for families who are juggling family responsibilities with work responsibilities."
Taxes and personal finance
"We saw a range of ballot measures that will significantly change financial outcomes for millions of people,” Ryan said.
In Nebraska, voters passed an initiative to cap payday loan interest rates at 36 percent. These loans offer quick cash infusions at exorbitant rates. Ryan says the average predatory loan rate in Nebraska is 400 percent. “Not only are they in need financially, but they go into a deeper financial hole they never get out of,” Ryan said of consumers who turn to these loans.
Florida voters agreed to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026 from the current $8.56. AARP did not take a position on the measure, Ryan said, but the gradual increase is likely to be “a significant boost to their earning power” for lower-wage workers.
Arizona voters decided to add a 3.5 percent income tax surcharge on high-income earners. The tax increase will apply to income over $250,000.
Illinois voters rejected an initiative to overhaul the state income tax system.
Colorado and Oregon voted to tax electronic cigarettes.
In California, voters supported a property tax break for taxpayers age 55 and older by allowing them to maintain their current tax break when they move to a different home three times instead of just once.
Ride-hailing drivers stay independent
California voters allowed companies such as Uber to classify their app-based drivers as contractors instead of employees. “It's the first foray into the gig economy and probably not the last,” Ballotpedia's Altic says. Some of this year's successful initiatives are likely to pop up in other states on future ballots.
A number of states and the District of Columbia moved toward decriminalizing marijuana or other drugs. Oregon passed a sweeping decriminalization of all controlled substances, D.C. eased rules against hallucinogenic mushrooms and Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota legalized the personal use of marijuana. Mississippi and South Dakota passed measures allowing marijuana for medical use.
Some states considered changing how their elections are conducted.
In Alaska, voters approved a system that would allow voters to rank their candidate choices so their second choice would count if their first choice doesn't do well. A similar measure was rejected by voters in Massachusetts. Maine uses this system, as do cities across the country.
Voters in Florida opposed switching to a nonpartisan “top-two” open primary, where the top two candidates, regardless of party, would run in the general election. A similar system is used in Louisiana, California and Washington state. Alaska had a similar measure on the ballot but the results are not final.
Coloradoans decided their electoral college members must vote for the candidate who wins the national popular vote, not necessarily who won in their state, but only if other states do likewise as part of a national agreement.