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On a Ballot Near You

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Perhaps marijuana legalization is on so many state ballots because caring and clairvoyant people understood how desperately Americans need a mind-altering substance to blur and numb the pain of this year’s presidential contest. 

By sheer numbers, marijuana tops this year’s list of The Top Five Issues on state ballots.

1. Marijuana (Nine States)

Voters will decide whether to legalize marijuana for medical use in four states — Arkansas, Florida, Montana, North Dakota — and for recreational use in five more— Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada. Those nine states contain more than 82 million people — constituting over 25 percent of the country. [more]

Certainly victories on most or all of these nine ballot measures would make it abundantly clear — if it is not already — that the tide has fully turned and the public wants to end the drug war, at least against marijuana.

The measure to watch is Amendment 2 in Florida. Two years ago, a similar measure garnered a whopping 58 percent YES vote — but LOST! Florida’s ballot initiatives must gain 60 percent of the vote to prevail. That’s a ridiculously high hurdle, but one poll shows Amendment 2 clearing it.

2. Ballot Measure Majority Rule (Amendment 71—Colorado)

It’s not getting a ton of attention across the country or even the most among Colorado’s nine ballot issues, but Amendment 71 will have the greatest lasting consequence of any ballot issue Rocky Mountain State voters face this election.

Powerful, bipartisan, establishment forces are backing Amendment 71, which would require initiative constitutional amendments to (a) qualify their petitions not only statewide but also in each of the 35 state senate districts, and (b) win a supermajority of 55 percent of the vote in order to prevail.

Requiring a do-or-die petition drive in each of 35 separate senate districts, on top of meeting the current statewide signature threshold, the new requirement will mean a lot more deaths for worthy petition issues. [more]

An impressive coalition of grassroots groups has sprung up to fight Amendment 71, co-chaired by progressive Common Cause and the free-market-oriented Independence Institute, but is being outspent more than ten to one.

If Amendment 71 wins, the legislature will have a virtual veto over the citizen initiative process, because constitutional amendments will be untenable and legislators can immediately repeal (or alter to their hearts’ content) any statutory initiative enacted by voters.

If Amendment 71 loses, the most powerful, well-heeled political lobbies will have discovered that even with a united political establishment and a ginormous bankroll, the people are not so easily hoodwinked.

3. Ranked Choice Voting (Question 5—Maine)

Our electoral process for selecting those who will hold public office seems obviously broken. I submit the lose-lose of the Trump vs. Clinton match-up as Exhibit A.

Exhibit B might be Gov. Paul LePage in Maine, who was in the news not long ago for leaving a profanity-laced tirade on a legislator’s answering machine. The controversial LePage has been elected to two terms, both times garnering only a plurality of the vote.

The majority voted against Gov. LePage. Twice.

This is not unusual for Maine. Only twice in the last four decades has Maine elected a governor with a majority of the vote.

If Mainers back Question 5, the “No more wasted votes” initiative, the state would be the first to use a voting system wherein voters rank their choices. The idea behind ranked-choice voting is that no candidate should be elected until receiving majority support. [more]

A win for ranked choice voting in Maine this year could propel this reform to the top of electoral reform agendas in many other states in coming years.

4. Breaking the Education Monopoly (Two States)

The awesome combination of financial and grassroots power wielded by the teachers’ unions has long made school choice and other education reforms extremely difficult. This election, two measures are taking on the education establishment: Question 2 in Massachusetts and Amendment 1 in Georgia.

The Bay State’s Question 2 would increase the legal cap on the number of charter schools permitted. The evidence that charter schools produce better outcomes than non-charter public schools is starting to pile up. Nevertheless, the public school lobby is fighting to block what they see as competition for the tax dollars they crave. [more]

Georgia’s Amendment 1 would provide a system for recognizing chronically failing public schools and helping get students into better schools, or turning failing schools into charters. Amendment 1 is suffering from its leadership being mostly politicians, and from fervent opposition from the forces of public school monopolization. It, too, seems likely to lose.

But if the Cubs can win the World Series, someday education reform can win against the entrenched public school lobby.

5. Minimum Wage (Five States)

Voters in four states — Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington — will decide whether to hike their state’s minimum wage. In a fifth state, South Dakota, voters will vote to approve or reject a law passed by the state legislature creating a lower minimum wage for those under 18 years of age.

Ballot measures upping the minimum wage have been a perennial device to boost Democratic Party turnout, and the initiatives rarely — and unfortunately — meet any organized opposition. I say “unfortunately,” because minimum-wage laws are arbitrary restraints on the freedom to contract of both employees and employers. They hurt most poor and low-skilled workers yearning for entry-level jobs.

The minimum wage hikes are likely to pass, but a victory for South Dakota’s Referred Law 20, which allows employers to pay younger workers less, may be the start of voters coming to their senses. Once we realize that we cannot vote ourselves high-paying jobs and prosperity, our policies on minimum wage and other economic questions will dramatically improve.

Remember, it’s not just picking between the lesser of evil candidates this election, there are 154 ballot measures to be decided. Best of all, unlike the politicians we elect, these measures are written down in black and white: they cannot change their minds after we vote.

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