Tuesday, September 14, 2010

November Ballot Measures

On November 2, voters in 35 states will vote on at least 149 ballot questions. That number might change because there is still time for state legislatures to add referendums. However, the deadline for citizen-initiated ballot measures has already passed in the states that allow that process.

There are two basic kinds of state ballot questions:
  • Referendums are votes for or against laws that have already been passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor. Certain actions - such as passing state constitutional amendments or bond measures - can automatically trigger voter referendums, and all 50 states require an automatic referendum under certain circumstances. Citizens in 23 states can also petition for a referendum to overturn any law.
  • Initiatives appear on the ballot when individual citizens (which includes interest groups and lobbies) gather the requisite number of signatures of support by the state deadline. Voters in 26 states can put initiatives or popular referendums on the ballot, and this year, forty-two citizen-initiated measures have qualified for the ballot.
Ballot measures address a variety of issues this year: voters in Illinois will get the chance to create a recall procedure for removing the governor, midterm, with a popular vote. Rhode Island voters will determine the fate of the state's official name (which is currently "Rhode Island and the Providence"), and Californians will decide whether or not to fully legalize marijuana. South Dakota has the this year’s only "popular referendum" -- an effort to overturn the state's ban on smoking in casinos.

The National Conference of State Legislatures notes that there are usually around 200 total ballot measures in national election years. In the past 10 general elections dating back to 1990, voters approved 1,204 of 1,943 measures that appeared on state ballots. That 62% success rate has been fairly constant, and only once in that period did fewer than half of the ballot measures pass (in 1990 only 42% were approved). The highest rate of passed ballot measures in that period was in 1998, when 175 of 236 proposed ballot questions – 74% – were approved.

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