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US Election Will Decide Host of Referendum Issues From Taxes to Marijuana

FILE - Signs are seen outside of a polling location during early voting in Sumter, South Carolina, Oct. 9, 2020.

When Americans go to the polls November 3, they will not just be making a choice for a president and lawmakers but will also decide on ballot initiatives on a range of issues from tax policies to marijuana laws.

Such initiatives, also called referendums, are on the ballots in 32 states, and they give voters a choice on measures that often directly affect their lives, including rent control laws, income tax rates and the minimum wage.

Nationwide, 120 measures are on statewide ballots this fall, according to the election website, with the most popular issues being election policies, taxes and the legalization of marijuana.

Big spending

One of the highest-profile ballot campaigns, as well as the most expensive, is California’s Proposition 22, which centers on the pay and benefits of drivers for app-based services, such as Uber and Lyft. Nearly $200 million has been spent to support or oppose the referendum, most of it paid to advocate for the measure by Uber and Lyft, as well as delivery services DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates.

The referendum, which was created by the app companies, seeks to classify drivers for app-based services as independent contractors without the same rights to benefits and certain wages as traditional employees. It is a response to a California state law passed last year that classified the drivers as traditional employees and threatened to upend the app-based business model.

The app companies argue that the contractor model gives drivers the flexibility to work whenever they choose, while labor unions say it denies them a traditional wage and other protections.

Proposition 22 does require companies to provide some benefits to its drivers, including a guaranteed minimum wage and subsidies for health insurance if they average 25 hours of work a week. However, it does not grant drivers the full benefits of traditional employees.

Uber and Lyft, which are both headquartered in San Francisco, have said they may leave California if the measure fails.

California has eight of the top 10 most expensive campaigns surrounding ballot initiatives in 2020, according to Ballotpedia. The second most expensive campaign has been waged over California’s Proposition 23, which would require dialysis clinics to have a licensed physician or highly trained nurse on site during kidney dialysis treatments.

The measure was placed on the ballot by unions that represent health care workers, and it is being opposed by dialysis clinic companies who say the initiative would create a large cost burden and would force some clinics to close.

California has about 600 dialysis clinics, providing care to about 80,000 people in the state with kidney failure.


Four states will vote in November on initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana -- Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota. Two states — South Dakota and Mississippi — will decide on medical marijuana initiatives.

Ballot initiatives have become a popular way for states to legalize recreational marijuana after Washington and Colorado become the first states to approve legalized cannabis initiatives in 2012.

Currently, 11 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes.

Most of this year’s marijuana referendums were initiated by citizens who worked to gain signatures to qualify the measure for ballot access. However, New Jersey’s measure was put on the ballot by the state’s legislature, after Democratic legislative leaders were not able to get the votes last year to pass a bill legalizing marijuana.

Voters in Arizona and South Dakota are getting another chance to decide the issue after rejecting marijuana legalization measures in the past. In Arizona, voters narrowly rejected a measure to legalize recreational marijuana in 2016, while voters in South Dakota rejected medical cannabis ballot measures in 2006 and 2010.

Election laws

One of the most popular issues on ballots this November is election policies and laws, covering a range of issues, including campaign finance, term limits, and who can vote.

In one instance, a California proposition is seeking to allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 at the time of the next general election to vote in the primary. A Colorado proposition, on the other hand, is seeking to undo that very same law in its state, prohibiting 17-year-olds from voting in primary elections.

Other referendum issues getting attention this year is one in California seeking to overturn the state’s ban on affirmative action, which was passed by a previous referendum in 1996. The new measure would allow public agencies and schools to again take into account race, ethnicity and sex when making admissions or hiring decisions.

Another initiative making headlines is one in Washington state that would require public schools to teach sex education. The proposal’s Democratic backers say the classes will help students make safe decisions, while its Republican opponents say a state-mandate is heavy-handed and argue that some of the proposed class content goes against religious teachings.