Ballot measures would legalize pot, end death penalty, create single-payer health care

While this year’s explosive presidential politics have drowned out battles at the state level, voters across the country nevertheless face a daunting number of weighty ballot questions on Nov. 8 – ranging from an effort to abolish the death penalty to one that would usher in a state-run health care system.

Other states are jumping on the bandwagon of weighing marijuana legalization, while minimum-wage hikes, gun control and even a statewide plastic-bag ban are being put to voters.

As usual, California leads in the number of statewide ballot measures with 17, including ones that revisit two hot-button social issues from the past.

At the top of the list are two competing measures regarding the death penalty – one (Proposition 62) putting an end to it and replacing it with life without parole. The other (Proposition 66) puts time limits on appeals in an attempt to fast-track executions. If both measures get a majority, the one that receives the most “yes” votes wins.

The fracas is reminiscent of the 1980s, when California voters bounced three sitting justices from the state Supreme Court because of their reluctance to implement the death penalty.

California is also voting on Proposition 58, which would allow public schools to restart controversial bilingual programs. The question dates back to a divisive battle in the 1990s over a system that taught immigrant children largely in their native languages, typically Spanish. The English for the Children campaign in 1998 mostly outlawed the practice and replaced it with English immersion. The ballot measure would reconsider that decision.

In neighboring Nevada, voters are considering a far-reaching electricity deregulation measure known as Question 3. If approved, it would insert language into the state constitution to require an “open, competitive retail electricity market.” Supporters see it as a way of breaking the public utility monopoly and jump-starting a marketplace filled with clean, alternative energy providers. Supporters include Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. Opponents, mainly unions, depict it as a giveaway to billionaires.

Meanwhile, as ObamaCare gets bad publicity for rapidly rising premiums, Colorado voters are being asked to approve ColoradoCare, which would finance a $36-billion “universal healthcare” system to cover almost all Coloradans, thus making the Rocky Mountain State the single-payer guinea pig for the nation. To do so, Amendment 69 imposes a 10-percent payroll tax on employers, who would pay two-thirds of it, and employees, who would pay the remaining third.

Voters in Democratic-leaning Oregon also are being asked to slap a tax increase – 2.5 percent on gross sales in excess of $25 million – on some of the state’s largest employers. Measure 97 would be the largest tax increase in the state’s history, something that would be applied to total sales rather than profits. Opponents say it would raise the cost of goods and services, on everything from gasoline purchases to groceries. Proponents say it would provide needed funds for healthcare, senior services and public education.

Five states are considering the legalization of marijuana for recreational uses (Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada). Polls show the measures leading in California, Maine and Massachusetts, but struggling in Arizona and Nevada. States that already have legalized recreational marijuana are Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. (The District of Columbia largely legalized pot possession and cultivation at home only.)

In California, the lieutenant governor has championed a gun-control measure (Proposition 63) that would require background checks to purchase ammunition. In Washington state, Initiative 1491 would allow courts to issue an “extreme risk protection order” to ban weapons from people who family members of police claim to be a potential danger.

Minimum-wage fights will play out on five state ballots. Arizona, Colorado and Maine voters will consider initiatives that would raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. Washington’s minimum-wage measure would raise it to $13.50 by 2020 and mandate that many employers provide paid sick leave. In South Dakota, voters face a referendum on a law that would lower the minimum wage for under-18 workers from $8.50 an hour to $7.50 an hour – an effort supporters say would reduce teen unemployment.

There are some odd twists, too. A California referendum (Proposition 67) will let voters either approve or reject a new law that forbids stores from handing out single-use plastic bags and requires them to charge at least 10 cents for alternative bags. Annoyed at the role played by grocery stores, plastic-bag manufacturers backed Proposition 65 as payback. It would redirect proceeds from new-bag sales from the grocers to a state environmental fund.

According to Ballotpedia, there are 160-plus measures on statewide ballots. If voters avert their glaze from Trump vs. Clinton, they’ll find plenty of substantive issues worth researching.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He is based in Sacramento. Write to him at