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Across the U.S., more than 150 measures will be on statewide ballots in November for voters to weigh in on with a “yeah” or “nay.” Measures dealing with marijuana, gun control, minimum wage, taxes and other controversial issues have been approved for 2016 ballots. There’s a greater number of citizen-initiated measures this year than at any time since 2006. Experts say more people are turning to the ballot box to counteract legislative gridlock and the Republican takeover of many state legislatures. Diane and her panel of experts discuss the role of ballot measures in driving political change.
- Reid Wilson National correspondent, The Hill
- Josh Altic Ballot measures project director, Ballotpedia, a non-partisan, non-profit online encyclopedia that covers American federal, state and local politics, elections and public policy
- Thad Kousser Professor and department chair of political science, U.C. San Diego; co-author of "The Logic of American Politics"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Across the country, there are more citizen initiatives on statewide ballots than there have been in a decade. Gun control, marijuana, minimum wage are just a few of the issues voters will have a chance to address at the polls in November. With Republicans in control of a large number of state legislatures, liberals have turned to ballot measures to press their agenda.
MS. DIANE REHMHere with me to talk about trends in ballot measures, Reid Wilson of The Hill. From the KUVO studios in Denver, Josh Altic of Ballotpedia. And by phone from California, Thad Kousser of UC San Diego. I do invite you to be part of this ballot measure discussion. I’m sure many of you will be out there voting for or against them. Give us a call, 800-433-8850.
MS. DIANE REHMSend us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or twitter. And Reid, Josh and Thad, thank you all for joining us.
MR. REID WILSONGood morning.
MR. JOSH ALTICYeah, hi.
MR. THAD KOUSSERGood morning.
REHMReid, I'll start with you. First, explain what it takes to get a ballot initiative on the ballot.
WILSONSo a number of states, about half the states in the country allow citizens to collect signatures and place a ballot measure, a ballot question on the ballot, whether it's an initiative or referendum. It varies by state, according to those laws. And...
REHMDoesn't there have to be a great number of people?
WILSONIt does. There have to be thousands, tens of thousands in most states. In California, it's somewhere around 350,000 people who have to sign a petition to get something on the ballot. And when they do, the initiatives end up on the November ballot, which is essentially the -- historically, speaking, it's the answer to timber barons and the railroad barons who ended up taking over state legislatures in the West in the early part of the 20th century. This was the citizens' way to reform politics.
REHMSo why so many this year?
WILSONWell, there's an interesting breakdown here. There are fewer ballot measures overall, but the decline comes from fewer state legislatures putting things on the ballot. And now, more citizens are undertaking this initiative process and getting things on the ballot overall. A lot of that, I think, probably stems from the fact that legislators, over the last decade, have been hesitant to put things like tax increases -- to pass tax increases through the legislature.
WILSONThey want to give it to the people to pass. Now, state budgets are doing a little better. They don't have to put tax increases on the ballot so they're letting -- they're passing more things through the legislatures. And citizens are putting their own measures on the ballot, again sort of a way to take something that would create political gridlock in a legislative body and put it to a straight vote of the people.
REHMAnd how many are we seeing this year?
WILSONSo there are 165 ballot measures across the country, according to Ballotpedia's calculations, 74 of them driven by citizens across the country. The rest are state legislative questions that have been put on the ballot.
REHMAnd to you, Josh Altic, how many states actually allow these kinds of citizen initiatives? Do all 50?
ALTICNo. About half, like Reid was saying, 26 states allow some sort of petition process to put a measure on the ballot. And 18 of those allow Constitutional amendments through citizen initiative, fewer allow referendums, but yes, so in total, 26. And, of course, across those states, the ability and the restrictions on those initiatives varies widely. For example, in Illinois, the restriction is -- the topic restriction is very small so you're only allowed to put initiatives on the ballot that have to do with really specific items.
REHMGive me an example.
ALTICSo in Illinois, for example, you're only allowed to put measures on the ballot through the citizen initiative process that affect the legislature, so things like redistricting. But many states, many of those 26, allow a wider variety of things, things that are more likely to affect the policies the people are interested in, like minimum wage, marijuana, things like that.
REHMAnd to you, Thad Kousser, tell me about the states that, this year, have the most initiatives.
KOUSSERWell, we're seeing a lot the usual suspects. So California, for instance, which has the -- in history, we've had the -- we've passed the most ballot initiatives of any state. We have 17 on the ballot statewide and then many dozens more in some cities and counties. Oregon, Colorado, these are the states that often, as Reid said, the Western states that have the strong progressive history, they use the ballot initiative over and over and then some states, New Mexico, Illinois, it's almost a dead letter.
KOUSSERYou see these initiatives used once every decade.
REHMAnd Josh, Ballotpedia gives us a breakdown of the kinds of issues on the November ballot. Are there sort of repeat issues in states around the country? Which are the most popular?
ALTICYeah, so we try to cover the most notable ones, but, of course, there is a wide variety of topics. But this year, we're seeing more marijuana-related measures than any year before. There are a total of ten, five of them are medical marijuana-related and five of them would seek to legalize all marijuana, recreational and medical. And this is a trend we've kind of been watching. It's -- as certain states have succeeded through the initiative process in legalizing marijuana -- you have Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska -- you see people wanting to do it again, right?
ALTICIf it works, why not use it in other states? So that's sort of a policy change that's definitely been sort of shifted to the initiative process because legislators are unwilling to pass, you know, legalization, especially with the federal ban still in effect.
REHMAnd Reid, what about minimum wage?
WILSONRight. So we're seeing the minimum wage coming up on the ballot in four states this year. Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington will all vote on whether or not to raise the minimum wage. There's actually a fifth state. In South Dakota, they'll get to vote on whether or not to lower the minimum wage, but for very specific people, for those under the age of 18. I think it's actually people who work at carnivals and things like that. So the minimum wage might fall there.
WILSONBut overall, I want to go back to one of Josh's points. He mentions that there are going to be five states that vote whether or not to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes this year. If they do pass that, there will be nine total states that allow marijuana for recreational purposes and those nine states are represented by 100 of the 435 members of the House of Representatives. So there's a larger story here on the marijuana legalization specifically, because marijuana legalization advocates believe that with so many members of Congress having a vested interest in legal pot, even those who oppose legalized marijuana don't necessarily want the federal government to interfere with their states.
WILSONSo they think that there are a whole bunch of legislative pushes they can make in Congress to essentially exempt those states and prevent the justice department from going after states where marijuana's legal. So this could be the beginning of a very fast moving snowball.
REHMAnd Thad Kousser, I gather gun control is on a number of state ballots.
KOUSSERYeah, gun control, again, is another of these issues, like Reid said, that bubbles up from a set of states that want to move in one direction and so you see it on many state ballots this year, but also this is an example of the use of the initiative process to let the blue states get bluer, the ones passing gun control laws, but also red states have gotten redder and we've seen some concealed carry, some relaxation of gun control laws happening in the Republican states.
KOUSSERAnd so the push for gun -- which direction the country is going to go on guns just as we've seen Washington D.C. deadlocked, we've seen two sets of states move in very different directions on this, often through the use of the ballot.
WILSONSo gun control, I think, is the perfect example of where a state -- where a certain group of interested activists can push a population more than a legislator is willing to go. In Maine and Nevada, voters will vote on whether or not to expand background checks this year. In Washington State, they'll vote on whether or not to ban those with extreme risk protection orders, like a restraining order or a suicide prevention order or something like that, from owning a handgun.
WILSONIn all three of those states, Republicans control at least one chamber of the state legislature. In Nevada, they control all three. Well, both chambers and the governorship. So essentially, those state legislatures are never going to move on these particular gun control issues, but, you know, expanding background checks is something that polls at 80 percent. The extreme risk protection orders, that's something that polls at 80 percent. If these issues go before the voters, they're likely to act in a much different way than their state legislature will.
REHMSo just to clarify, if a majority vote for, say, stricter gun control, does that automatically become the law?
WILSONIt will and most ballot initiatives -- or most states allow ballot initiatives to pass with a simple majority. In Florida, it's a little bit different. You have to hit a higher standard, which is why Florida's medical marijuana measure two years ago got something like 58 percent of the vote and still failed because it had to reach a 60 percent threshold. So across the country, these rules vary, but in most states, 50 plus 1 is all you need.
REHMReid Wilson, he's national correspondent for The Hill newspaper. We're going to take a short break here. When we come back, one of the initiatives I want to talk with our guests about is on the ballot in Colorado dealing with death with dignity. And as most of our listeners know, that is something I have been outspoken in supporting.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the many ballot measures on the voters' machines that you're going to be seeing across the country on November 8, and so many that many people may not recognize how much activity is going on in this area. We've got two opinions on ballot initiatives, first a tweet from Bill, who says with Citizens United and billions of dollars from special interests, ballot initiatives are our only democratic resource to balance power.
REHMAnd on the other hand, here's an email from Brian in Ferndale, Michigan, who says a fundamental part of representative government is that laws are debated, and compromise is achieved. Ballot initiatives let the legislators off the hook and allow laws to be made by whomever screams the loudest, funds the most TV ads and just shows up on off election dates. This is not an improvement to democracy, it's a game show government. Thad Kousser, what do you think?
KOUSSERI love that term, game show government. But I think both your listeners get at the hearts of this question that we've been debating for 100 years, since the advent of the initiative process, which is, is this any way to run a democracy. So Bill's tweet gets at this question of campaign finance, and interestingly Citizens United has been in effect for initiatives for their entire history, right. You can give unlimited amounts for or against a proposition because you can't corrupt it. It's just a piece of paper. It's not a legislator, whose mind you can -- whose mind you can change.
KOUSSERSo that's why we've seen tens, sometimes hundreds of millions spent on both sides of major ballot measures, and importantly that's been true for a century. We've had paid signature gatherers and this Astroturf democracy, placing things on ballots, for its history. And then your second listener's comment, yes, whoever pays that money to qualify an initiative for the ballot gets to essentially make a take-it-or-leave-it offer to the people, right. If you don't like the status quo, you have to go all the way to what my initiative is, and that's very different than the way that Switzerland practices direct democracy, that's sort of where we got the idea, where in Switzerland, there's the status quo, there's the initiative, and there's the legislature's alternative, a sort of compromise position sitting there on the ballot, often opposing that.
KOUSSERSo America gives a lot of power to the groups that do have the money, but that also gives power to the promoters.
REHMJosh Altic, how do you respond?
ALTICI agree that both readers make really good points, and I like the -- I mean, they're called citizen initiatives because it's the citizens that sign the petitions. It's not necessarily the citizens that drive the campaign in the first place. You need, in most states, you need a lot of money to get one of these initiatives on the ballot. You need backing from either one rich person or a coalition, and we're seeing a lot more cases where you have national groups working on these, so you have support from not just a grassroots local effort but from across the nation to get this before the voters, and then the voters have to sign it, and that's why it's called a citizen initiative because they have to sign it.
ALTICAnd there are a lot of complexities here. That's why the laws vary so much and why half the states don't even have the process at all.
WILSONOne -- just because Citizens United has injected more money into candidate-driven politics doesn't mean that there is less money in ballot initiative-driven products. As a matter of fact, I think it's possible that the second most expensive race in the nation this year, after the presidential contest, is going to be a ballot initiative in California, and it's an initiative that would limit the price of prescription drugs, it would allow the state to purchase prescription drugs at the same price that the Veterans Administration would pay for them.
WILSONSome hospital associations have put millions of dollars behind it. Pharma, who is very much against initiatives like this, has put, last time I checked, it was somewhere north of $70 million against this one particular initiative. So that alone means that a ballot initiative is going to be the second most expensive thing on the ballot this year. Just because citizens are the ones who put it on the ballot doesn't mean that corporations don't get involved, and as a matter of fact in a lot of these states, the most expensive ballot measures are driven by corporate spending, in places like Florida, where they're debating renewable energy.
WILSONYou've got traditional energy sources and renewable energy companies going at each other with millions of dollars. In Colorado, they're -- they were debating, it fell off the ballot, measures that would have banned fracking. That generated a whole bunch of spending from the energy industry, too. So citizens put these things on the ballot, and then everybody gets to spend on them.
REHMHow about conservatives? Do they use ballot measures, as well?
WILSONSo I was talking to Josh when I was writing this series of stories, and he brought up a good point, that about a decade ago it was conservatives driving the ballot initiative process. You remember the gay marriage bans that were on the ballot in I think it was 11 states in 2004. There were things like the Taxpayer Bill of Rights on the ballot in Colorado and a couple of other states. So conservatives used to use these to gin up turnout and to essentially get their ideas in the mainstream.
WILSONNow Republicans control 69 of 99 state legislative chambers across the country. So that effectively shuts Democrats out of the conversation in a lot of these areas. So now it's progressives and liberals who are using the ballot initiative to put their measures before the people because the state legislatures won't take them up.
REHMAll right, I do want to ask you about Colorado. It has an aid in dying measure coming up. It's Proposition 106, Medical Aid in Dying, and I repeat, as most of you know, I am in support of aid in dying, was in support when California passed it last year. I wondered whether California was going to be a tipping point. Washington Post points out that in fact the D.C. Council is voting on this on Wednesday, and there are 30 states now considering aid in dying. Tell us about Proposition 106.
WILSONSo Proposition 106 would allow anybody who's terminally ill, with six months or less to live, to receive a life-ending prescription, assuming two doctors sign off on it. The medication would then be self-administered, not administered by a doctor, and this is something that failed in the state legislature in February, and then supporters went out and gathered 160,000 signatures across Colorado. They needed about 99,000 to get the measure actually on the ballot.
WILSONAnd you bring up an important point, that California is often the tipping point for a lot of these states, especially more liberal and progressive states.
WILSONGay marriage, medical -- rather recreational marijuana. If it passes there, it's hard to see it not passing in a number of other, especially more liberal, states. The difference between marijuana and aid in dying is that a lot of the sort of -- call them establishment Democratic figures oppose marijuana for legal purposes, but they support aid in dying for legal purposes. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who was against legalizing marijuana in his state, endorsed the aid in dying measure last week, and we'll see whether or not it passes, but...
REHMAnd the opponents say the government should not allow right to die legislation. Religious groups are opposed, as are some doctors, who say they would be forced to comply. Is that true?
WILSONWhen people say they'll be forced to comply, that's an argument we hear a lot about a lot of ballot measures across the country or things like -- well, it's something that we hear a lot. It's not always clear that they would be forced to do anything. This is something that would require the ratification of a second doctor. So it doesn't necessarily mean that the doctor him- or herself would be the one writing the prescription.
REHMAnd Thad Kousser, as I understand it, in California the California Medical Association decided to stand back and not oppose the right to die there, and that's how the bill passed.
KOUSSERWell, I believe that was the case, and in California this was a hugely tough issue that our governor, Jerry Brown, who was a Catholic theologian early in his career...
KOUSSERReally took a long time making -- making his decision over. And I think what this initiative -- what you see in Colorado really brings out two points about the initiative process, right. One is that it allows voters to unpack issues from politicians. So when you vote for a politician, you buy their whole package of beliefs on same-sex marriage, on the right to die, on medical marijuana, on taxes, and what the initiative process, gives voter this sort of fine-grained control to go issue by issue and say, well, I want a fiscal conservative, social liberal who's opposed to the right to die or something like that.
KOUSSERThe second thing it does, though, is it moves away from the kind of weighting of people's issue opinions by their intensity, right. There are some bills, and right to die, these ones that bring out religious beliefs, often where legislators might not vote for the majority of the voters in the district because a minority is so passionate, feels so strongly, and this might actually change their mind about a re-election. The initiative process just counts every vote equally. That's a very small-D democratic principle, but it gets away from weighting passions, which is also something that a lot of theorists and our founders respected.
REHMJosh Altic, how likely is the Colorado aid in dying measure to pass?
ALTICRight now the polling we're looking at says that 70 percent of likely voters will approve it. So it looks likely. As far as spending goes, the support campaign has more money than the opposition campaign. It's backed...
REHMWho's funding it? Who's funding it?
ALTICThis is one of those examples of -- it's not just a state group but a national group that's helping both put this on the ballot and fund support. It's a campaign called Compassion and Choices. And they operate throughout many states, and they're working on a lot of the legislation that you were just talking about in lots of the states.
ALTICAnd they -- they're the one who sponsored this initiative and paid for the signatures to be collected, and they're funding a pretty -- a pretty comprehensive campaign in support of it.
REHMAll right, we've got lots of callers waiting. Let's open the phones, first to Sloan in Flushing, Michigan. You're on the air.
SLOANHi, I'd like to make a point about the ballot initiatives because citizens in Michigan have tried to make their voices heard, but our governor, Governor Snyder, when he doesn't like something that we pass, he just puts it back into law with an appropriation, which makes it untouchable citizens, such as the emergency manager law. The citizens voted it down. He put it back into practice and put a million-dollar appropriation, and now we can't do anything about it.
WILSONThere are a lot of states in which legislators, particularly, don't like the initiative process. I mean, it is, as somebody mentioned earlier in one of the emails, it lets -- not only does it let legislators off the hook, it takes power away from state legislators and from governors. So in Michigan this year, there was a rule during -- that you had to collect a certain number of signatures to qualify something for the ballot over a sort of a hazy period of time.
WILSONThey more strictly defined that period of time over which you have to collect signatures and therefore got a ballot measure kicked off the ballot earlier this year. So, you know, rules change, and, you know, one of the first things that a state legislatures does when a new majority comes in is they change all the election rules in a way that benefits them, and that's at least what happened in Michigan this year. It has happened in other states in previous years.
WILSONAnd by the way, we should say that a lot of these rules are flexible based on the way they're written. For example, we mentioned earlier that there are 350,000 signatures necessary to get a ballot measure on the ballot in California. Well, it used to be 500,000, and the reason it changed is because that number is based on the turnout in the previous gubernatorial election. Well, in 2014 very few people turned out to vote in California, and so the number, the threshold actually declined.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. All right, let's go to Barbara in Charlotte, North Carolina. You're on the air.
BARBARAHi, thanks for taking my call.
BARBARAI recently moved, about five years ago, to Charlotte from Portland, Oregon. North Carolina has no ballot initiative process, and of course Portland is one of the -- or Oregon is one of the original states that had ballot initiatives. I do believe that the turnout for elections is better when you have a hotly contested ballot initiative on it, the ballot. We did pass death with dignity in Oregon I believe twice, and it could have been three times. I know John Ashcroft came in and overturned that law several times.
BARBARASo I feel like the pitfalls of that law have been addressed through other states that have passed that law. I'm looking at my voter pamphlet today, and there is not a single initiative on it. Certainly in North Carolina they could have put HB2, the gay bathroom law, on the ballot and put to rest the idea that it's overwhelmingly supported by one group or another, and they are choosing not to. And it just is failure on the legislator's part to allow the people to have a voice in hot-button issues.
REHMThanks for calling, Barbara, and Thad, the question of whether ballot measures are good for democracy or not so good for democracy, you're written about that.
KOUSSERWell, I've written on that bigger question, but on your listener's specific hunch that initiatives lead to more turnout, there's absolutely tons of evidence on that. There's a book called "Educated by Initiative" by political scientists Caroline Tolbert and Dan Smith. And what that says is that in fact turnout is higher in initiative states, it's higher when there are more things on the ballot, and subsequent research has showed that the hotter initiatives with more spending leads to even more turnout, and it also leads to voters who feel like they have a bigger role in the process, they have more effect on politics, and they also educate themselves more on issues because they are going to be asked to make these many demanding choices up and down their ballot.
KOUSSERSo in that way it's good for our -- it's a big civics lesson that initiative states run every two years.
REHMJosh, do you want to comment?
ALTICYes, and I think it's very interesting to point out a point that Reid already made is that the signature requirement is tied to voter turnout. So when your voter turnout does dip, all of a sudden there's a greater opportunity to get these initiatives on the ballot. So it's kind of a -- if it's true, and there is a lot of evidence that having initiatives on the ballot does help voter turnout, if it's true, then by having a low voter turnout you give opportunity to put more initiatives on the ballot, and that's an interesting sort of self-correcting cycle there.
WILSONAnd to Barbara's point about the lack of initiatives in North Carolina, the first ballot initiative in the history of the country actually took place in Georgia back in I think it was 1777, but by and large ballot initiatives don't tend to come from the South. They tend to come much more from Mountain West and Western states. That's where sort of the strongest tradition of direct democracy has always existed.
REHMAnd people must be educated about these ballot initiatives before they go to their polling places, hopefully.
WILSONAnd in Barbara's former home state of Oregon, the ballot -- the voter pamphlet a couple years ago was two volumes. There were that many initiatives on the ballot.
REHMWow. All right, we'll take a short break here. More of your calls, your comments on ballot initiatives across the country. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. As we talk about citizen initiatives that will be on your ballots across the country. I think you said something like 26 states will have them.
WILSONI think, I think it's 26 states, yeah.
REHMThink it's 26 states. All right, here's an email from Lydia in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who says something I've always thought. These ballot measures often contain long confusing paragraphs. When there are two or three on the ballot, how do citizens who may not have an elevated reading level cope? Is there any kind of data to indicate how many of these initiatives are ticked yes or no? And how many are left blank. Let's take the first part of that first. Reid.
WILSONRight. So, this can very confusing, especially in a state like California, which this year will have 17 measures on the ballot. And they range from everything like hot button issues like raising the cigarette tax or banning the death penalty. Or in some cases, speeding up the death penalty. They're both on the ballot this year. Marijuana, gun control issues. Two more sort of bizarre things that voters don't easily understand, like limiting the cost of prescription drugs with regard to the Veterans Administration.
WILSONI mean, that's a difficult concept to wrap your head around. Because these states have to print, most states, have to print the entire text of the ballot measure in the voters' pamphlet, California's voters pamphlet is going to be 225, 224 pages long. And it's going to cost -- I was wrong, the cost is a little lower, 15 million dollars to print and ship...
WILSON...to voters across the state. I mean, 15 million bucks. That's, you know, government write a million here, a million there. Soon you're talking about real money.
REHMWell, it seems to me that that is in an attempt to educate the public, but how many people are really going to read through that?
WILSONAnd how many people are going to understand the concept of striking section three of sub paragraph 17 and replacing it with, you know, some legal jargon that the revised code of California is made up of.
REHMJosh Altic, to the second part of this. Is there any kind of data to indicate how many of these initiatives are ticked yes or no and how many are left blank?
ALTICThe -- we did a study on whether or not having a large ballot increased or decreased the chance of a proposal failing or not. And we studied it from 1912 through 2014, just looked at all the initiatives in California, all the ballots in California. And we only found a two point difference, so there are obviously a lot of factors that go into whether an initiative is approved or not. But the -- well, that's not conclusive, we found just looking at the numbers that just having a long ballot doesn't necessarily make a huge difference in whether or not the initiatives get approved.
REHMAll right. And here is an email from Hans and many others. I hope you discuss Maine's question five, ranked choice voting. This measure would revolutionize how we elect our state leaders and our federal delegation. Thad.
KOUSSERSo, rank choice voting, it's also called instant runoff, has gotten a lot of traction. It's recently been adopted in cities of Oakland and San Francisco in California. Some cities like Cambridge, Massachusetts have had it for a long time. And the idea is that it kind of -- it gives you the chance to say here's my one, two, three, four and five candidates. And that means that one, it can help support third party candidates. You don't have to just vote for a Democrat or Republican and worry about wasting your vote if they're one of the two top ranked candidates.
KOUSSERIt gives candidates a reason to play nice to each other, right? Because they want to be second on everyone's dance card. And be on that vote -- lower down in someone's voter preference. And so, there's some evidence that they're less likely, that candidates are less likely to run negative campaigns. And so this does have the chances to make a fundamental change in how American elections are run.
ALTICAnd this would be the first time that rank choice voting is applied to something other than what Thad mentioned, you know, non-partisan city council races. This would be applied to things like running for Congress, so you can, you could rank your, you know, the Green Party candidate first and the Democratic candidate second and the Libertarian candidate third if you -- if that's how you chose to vote. This would be the first time that it would be applied to something other than a strictly local election.
REHMSo, let me understand this if I can. If you have voted for that first candidate at the top of the ballot, and he or she loses, your vote automatically goes to the next candidate?
ALTICSo, hypothetically, there are 10 candidates running. If the person that I vote for as my top choice finishes tenth, he or she is eliminated in that first round and then among the remaining nine candidates, my vote goes to whoever I ranked second until you have, essentially, somebody winning with 50 percent plus one of the vote. It essentially allows or requires somebody to win with a majority of the vote, rather than just a plurality like we see in a lot of states.
REHMBut suppose I don't like my vote going to that second ranked candidate.
ALTICWell, there's -- just like you don't have to vote on every ballot initiative, you don't have to rank every candidate.
KOUSSERAnd that leads to, some recent research says that leads to a lot of votes not being counted, right?
KOUSSERBecause if you don't vote for a number two, three or four person, and your number one's gone, poof. Your voice is gone.
KOUSSERBut that's one of the possible drawbacks.
REHMHere's an email from Robin, who says Arizona voters were forced to pass a voter protection act to compel the legislature to follow initiatives passed. What guarantee do voters have in these states that the initiative will be enacted by their legislature? Not much.
WILSONWell, I think, Josh might know this better than I do, but there are a number of states that require a cooling off period, essentially allow an initiative to remain law for X number of years, maybe it's just a year or two before the state legislature can go back and tinker with them. I know that's the case in Washington state. It may be the case in other states, too. These guys will know better.
REHMWhat about that, Josh?
ALTICYeah, that is, that is absolutely correct. Many states have a legislative tampering prevention clause, so the legislature either, either they need a larger majority to change or remove initiatives, or they need to wait a certain amount of time.
KOUSSERInitiatives create a strong letter of the law, but most of the time, the legislature doesn't support the spirit of the law. And so they do everything they can, even if they're not overturning an initiative, to relax the way that it's implemented, change the way it's implemented. And let's not forget the courts who review, and in some states like California, throw out, in part or in all, most initiatives, right? So you've got all the three branches of American government working alongside this new fourth branch of direct democracy. And often, they're politically at odds with it.
REHMAll right, to June in Sarasota, Florida. You're on the air.
JUNEHi, Diane. Very nice to be with you.
REHMThank you. Go right ahead.
JUNEI -- my concern is that you're talking about education in terms of amendments. The League of Women Voters in Florida, at least, does a very good job of giving both views, the pluses and minuses of any suggested amendments or, you know, citizens amendments. And they are a source that would help you understand the wording of the amendments.
REHMThat is so important and so helpful. Reid.
WILSONEspecially in a -- at a time when there are some very confusing things on the ballot.
WILSONI mean, in a lot of states, Arkansas stands out to me this year. They've got a whole bunch of initiatives that were put on the ballot by the legislature that have to do with, you know, judicial vacancies and bond -- or bond floating in various school districts. I mean, these are complex things that essentially -- that's what we pay legislators to understand and to deal with. They're not the hot button things like marijuana or gay marriage or, or something like that. But they're things that have to do with the daily functioning of government. How's the average citizen supposed to know whether or not to, you know, ratify something like that?
REHMAnd that's where the League of Women's Voters comes in and is so important. Thanks for reminding us, June. Let's go to Diego in Lansing, Michigan. You're on the air.
DIEGOGood morning, Diane.
DIEGOHi. So, I'm sort of following Sloane's comments from Flushing, who mentioned the Emergency Manager Law. Two years ago, Michigan, a citizenship, a citizen drive called Raise the Wage was well on its way to getting on a ballot when the legislature repealed the language that the ballot would have amended. Meaning we were just basically hanging there in thin air. And then it was decided that the ballot could not go forward. Another time, last year, the legislature, to avoid doing a vote on raising taxes, did a special election to raise taxes on -- to pay for the roads.
DIEGOAnd in fact, they -- I mean, it's not even a mid-term election, right? 2015, there was nothing else going on. They had 18 percent turnout and the measure failed. And so, then it was used by these folks who were saying, well, nobody wants to raise taxes. And meanwhile, Michigan roads are horrible. And everybody complains about the roads.
REHMYou know, it's interesting. Diego points out that legislatures can step in before or after and...
WILSONThey can undercut the -- these essentially petition drives and kill them in their infancy. Missouri did that a couple of years ago, the Missouri State Legislature. I think it was on a minimum wage increase. They voted to increase the minimum wage by a much smaller amount than the citizens wanted to -- or that than the supporters wanted to in a ballot initiative. So this happens too. Legislatures are able to step in and circumvent something that hasn't even made it to the ballot yet.
REHMThad, tell us about California's Proposition 60, all about adult films.
KOUSSERYes. So this is a great example of one of these issues that legislators just didn't want to touch, because they didn't want to wade into this question. Which is maybe a public health question, but also potentially impacts the first amendment and requires that porn actors wear condoms. So, this is something that Californians are now red faced and at League of Women Voters events across the state trying to discuss this issue. But it also is one of these things that essentially gets at a clear social issue where it's not a technical governmental question.
KOUSSERIt's one that voters can make up their minds about and in the minds of many, this is a proper use of the initiative process to deal with something that the legislators just thought was a bit too icky.
REHMAnd to Tyler in St. Louis, Missouri. You're on the air.
TYLERHi Diane. I'm a three tour Iraq War veteran and my country's made me a criminal for treating issues related to medication side effects for my mental health by using medicinal marijuana. And here in Missouri, we tried to get it on the ballot this November. We fell short by 23 signatures in the end and those 23 signatures were related to the county block of the petition form. So it was a little bit of a kind of pedantic call by the judge. We were also obstructed by 15 prosecutors from the state of Missouri who filed suit against us to keep the initiative off the ballot.
TYLERThe Riverfront Times is a local paper that's done an excellent job of keeping track of all this and just to point out how backwards Missouri is, we had a non-violent marijuana three strikes offender in jail until last year. Over 20 years. His name was Jeff Mazanski. He spent over 20 years in jail for marijuana related offenses.
REHMAll right. And you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. That really is pretty dramatic, Reid.
WILSONAnd there are a number of states that have -- look, the majority of states now allow -- wait a second, is it the majority? Maybe it's -- 21, 22 something like that states, so not quite a majority of states allow marijuana for medicinal purposes. They've tried a few times in Missouri. They've tried a few times in states like Arkansas and Florida. We haven't quite reached the tipping point where everybody is in a medical marijuana state, but I think we're getting pretty close.
REHMAnd one last caller. Brian in Richmond, Indiana. You're on the air.
BRIANThanks for taking my call, Diane.
BRIANMy question is more about putting all these measures on ballots throughout states, doesn't that really undermine the notion that, you know, states should be an independent republic. We elect people to make these decisions. The Arkansas example, where the bond float issue. I don't care about bond float issue in a school district. I'd pay somebody or elect somebody to care about those issues. Doesn't that take away from state legislators when we put all these different ballot initiatives forward?
KOUSSERYeah, it absolutely is a different notion of democracy than the one that the founders supported, right? This is not -- we don't a Republican form of government. We have a hybrid democracy. In these half of our states that are initiative states where laws can be made either through the deliberative give and take of elected officials acting on our behalf or voters can seize that power. And it's a very different notion that comes with all the pros and cons we've been discussing today.
REHMAnd you may vote for someone you think is going to represent the ideas and ideals that you hold dear. And perhaps politics gets in the way.
WILSONWell, and in a lot of these states, it is in fact state legislators who have placed caps on what kinds of tax increases you can pass, what kinds of bonds you can issue, that require voters to ratify something if somebody wants to go over those caps. So, a state legislator who puts this on the ballot has made his or her position clear. They want to pass something like this. They just need the citizens to ratify it because of something that some other state legislator did maybe 20 years ago.
ALTICYeah, and an interesting not there too is that all states except Delaware require voter ratification for any constitutional amendment changes. And that's something that was actually, centuries ago, was required by the federal government for states coming into the union. They had to have that requirement, that voters have a say when states want to amend the constitution. So this is a, an aspect of our democracy that's pretty key and has been around for a long time. The voters do have direct say on some things.
REHMFinally, Josh, which of these citizen initiatives do you see as most likely to pass?
ALTICI actually don't have that data right in front of me, but the -- what are -- historically, minimum wage measures are extremely popular with the voters. If you get a minimum wage measure on the ballot, it almost always passes. I think there have been 15 on the ballot in the last decade or so, and they've all passed. So I would say minimum wage is a good bet.
WILSONAnd I think we're going to see marijuana legalization expand dramatically this year. The last poll I saw had it leading by a huge margin in California. Possibly no surprise, but also pretty libertarian states like Arizona and Nevada. Some, you know, Massachusetts. These are liberal to libertarian states that are pro-marijuana. There are going to be a lot more states where you can smoke pot after (unintelligible)
REHMAll right. We'll leave it at that. Just inform yourself before you go to the ballot box about these initiatives. Reid Wilson of the Hill Newspaper, Josh Altic of Ballotpedia and Thad Kousser. He is at UC San Diego. Thank you all so much. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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