America 2016: Ballot Initiatives

As well as the presidential and congressional elections, Tuesday also saw a number of states conduct referenda on a variety of different issues. The interesting thing about these ballot initiatives was that the left-wing propositions won nearly across the board on everything from cannabis legalisation to raising the state’s minimum wage. Although these results were undoubted overshadowed by the election of Donald Trump as US President, these referenda will have lasting consequences for everyday Americans.

The main headlines regarding ballot initiatives was the successful attempts to legalise marijuana in California, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Maine, with medical marijuana now legal in Arkansas, Montana, and North Dakota. The only state that rejected cannabis legalisation of any kind was Arizona, however analysts have pointed to significant lobbying attempts in the state by the tobacco and alcohol industries. This is substantive because it means that there will no longer be situations where people are thrown in prison for possessing a substance that is significantly less dangerous than alcohol.
Further, with the entire West Coast now a haven for cannabis users, market forces will ensure that the industry booms and I believe this is the tipping point for the country as a whole. The economic boosts for these states will bring greater prosperity and the drug dealers of Latin America will be the people who lose out the most.
The massive caveat that is attached to this development is that a Trump White House and a GOP-controlled Congress may well decide to enforce the federal ban on marijuana, which legally would be sound because of the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution. We shall wait and see who Trump appoints as Attorney General and what their stance on cannabis legalisation is.
california-weed-mother-jones
Weed the people. (Mother Jones)
On a completely different subject, it was a mixed bag in terms of healthcare initiatives. California voted in favour of mandated voter consent for changes to Medi-Cal’s funding strategy and also voted to cap the cost of prescription drugs at the level payed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Nevada voted to exempt medical equipment from sales tax.
Washington state voted to repeal a tax rise that would have funded Washington Healthplanfinder to offer adult dental plans to resident. Most significantly, the voters of Colorado rejected a ballot initiative which would have created a state-run single-payer healthcare programme through changes to the state payroll tax. This is a big setback because if Colorado had adopted a single-payer system, it could have provided a template for other states to adopt and it would have completely transformed the discourse of US politics on this issue.
On the topic of gun control California voted for automatic background checks on gun purchases and a ban on high capacity magazines. Nevada also voted for background checks on gun purchases. Washington state approved Initiative 1491 which authorized courts to issue ‘extreme risk protection orders’ which removed an individual’s access to firearms. Maine rejected a mandatory background check for gun purchases between unlicensed firearms dealers, which from my English perspective sounds like a stupid choice.
Minimum wage increases were also approved of in many different states. Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington all agreed to increase their state minimum wages, and in South Dakota an attempt to decrease the minimum wage for young people was defeated by voters. These measures will all increase the velocity of money in these states and will lift a number of people out of poverty over the next few years.
In addition to these more orthodox ballot initiatives, there were some interesting other subjects voted on by the electorate on Tuesday. California voted against forcing actors in pornography to wear condoms. Personally I am fine with this as, although there needs to be measures introduced to improve the safety of the adult film industry, actors know what they are getting themselves into and many companies already mandate regular health screenings. The intention was correct but this particular measure, in my view, was the wrong one. Californians also voted on banning plastic shopping bags, and this measure was adopted which should be good for the environment of the state.
plastic bag usa today.jpg
In California this will now be a thing of the past. (USA Today)
However out of all of the ballot initiatives mentioned above, the one I found most interesting was the decision of Maine voters to adopt a new electoral system for state elections. Maine has decided to get rid of their current first-past-the-post system in favour of a preferential system whereby voters rank the candidates by preference. Why do I think this is so important? It’s only one state and it’s not exactly a massively influential state? It’s important because it breaks the two-party duopoly on power. This system of voting eliminates the ‘spoiler effect’ which gives Maine voters the freedom to vote their conscience without the risk of someone they detest being voted as a result. This is an important step because this topic wasn’t even being discussed at a national level but now that it will be in play for Maine’s state elections (state representatives, state senators, governor, US Senate, and US House), new parties will be able to emerge and challenge the existing discourse.
Despite the melancholy of the presidential election for left-wingers, we can take note that progress has been made in the background and that it was achieved because of grassroots action. Activists on the ground galvanised support for a higher minimum wage, legal cannabis, and Maine’s electoral reform. Although Colorado didn’t embrace single-payer healthcare more left-wing states like California or New York may take the example of the Colorado activists and propose a similar ballot initiative in their states. The ripple effect from these changes will be interesting to watch.
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