This is the second part of a four-part series about the results of the 2018 election in the US. Today we look specifically at the ballot questions.
There were a lot of questions this year, and many of them were hotly contested.
Marijuana, for example, continued to be a hotly contested issue in the United States, and this contest (both cultural and economic) has been waged by the contending parties largely through ‘direct democracy,’ — the vote of the people of several states on questions (that may be called initiatives, referenda, or proposals, or something else, depending on the state whose laws are involved), placed on the ballot after successful petition drives as a way of circumventing what petitioners often see as intolerable legislative gridlock.
This year, voters had their say about their state’s law on cannabis in four battlegrounds: Michigan; North Dakota; Utah; Missouri. Voters in Michigan approved Proposal 1, by a comfortable margin, in effect ordering the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to get to work on a system that will allow adult recreational use. Voters in North Dakota, on the other hand, rejected a measure that would have done much the same, known in that state as Measure 3. [Medical marijuana is already legal in North Dakota, and the failure of Measure 3, with regard to recreational use, does nothing to change that.] In Missouri, voters approved Question 2, by a margin of 66% to 34%. This allows doctors in the state to recommend medical use of marijuana for any condition they see fit. In Utah, voters also passed a sweeping medical marijuana measure, through they did so with the understanding that the state legislature is already at work on a superseding measure, one which will create a more limited medicinal program.
There were also local initiatives on a lot of ballots around the country. In Racine, Wisconsin, for example, voters confronted seven different ballot questions on the subject, because the city and the county were presenting voters with three (non binding) cannabis questions each.
With all that out of the way, what follows are some observations on three of the non-MJ related ballot measures that piqued our interest this year.
Missouri, Arkansas, and the Minimum Wage
Voters in both Missouri and Arkansas weighed in by large margins for measures that will now increase the minimum wage an employer can pay an employee in either state. Missouri’s Proposition B passed with 62% of the vote. In Arkansas, Issue 5 passed with 68%.
Both states voted for Donald Trump in 2016. It is worth noting that in August 2015, in an interview with MSNBC, Trump said, “Having a low minimum wage is not a bad thing for this country.” Likewise, in November of that year, during a debate among the many Republican candidates for the Presidential nomination at the time, Trump said that wages in the US are too high and, when asked about an increase in the federal minimum wage, he said, “I would not do it.”
The voters in these two red states seem to have taken matters into their own hands. In both cases, the legislatures have long been firmly against increasing the state minimum wage, and legislators in both places tend to believe that keeping it low is not a bad thing for the state because it might attract employers from other states, or keep employers there, and because keeping wages down may help keep prices down.
In Massachusetts voters have voted “no” on Question 1 by a large margin, declining to impose rules on hospitals in the state with regard to patient ratios, to the effect for example that no one nurse may be responsible for more than four pediatric patients, or more than five psychiatric patients, at any one time.
During the campaign, the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission released a study estimating that if the measure passed, it would impose costs of between $676 million and $949 million on the state’s health care system each year. It also said that these costs could lead to the closure of some health care institutions and an increase in insurance premiums. Perhaps as a less obvious side effect, the change could have led to layoffs in the non-care staff in hospitals, as institutions would have sought to compensate for the increased costs by cutting corners in the cafeteria or the laundry room.
Throughout the campaign there was much discussion of a similar law in effect in California. Analysts suggest that the law has not improved patient outcomes there.
But with the defeat of the proposal, backers promised to fight on. “There are nurses caring for too many patients, and those patients are necessarily being put in harm’s way. And the problem continues to grow every year. The status quo is not a solution here,” said Donna Kelly-Williams, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
Extension of Suffrage to ex-Cons in Florida
Voters in Florida supported Amendment 4, which automatically restores suffrage to felons who have served their time, so long as they have not been convicted of murder or sex offenses.
Until this vote was taken only four states still had laws that disenfranchise all former felons until or unless the Governor extends clemency. Florida was until now one of that select group (as were, and are, Iowa, Virginia, and Kentucky).
To its supporters, Amendment 4 is a civil rights cause. It could extend the vote to 1.5 million people currently without it.
It is also seen in some quarters as a victory for racial justice. Per capita, more black and Hispanic people are serving time as felons than are whites. Felony drug offenses have long been a particularly controversial reason for taking away someone’s right to vote. Activists say that although African-Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, the imprisonment of African-Americans on drug charges nationwide is almost 6 times that of whites.
The issue of reintegrating ex-cons into the general population when their time is up is a huge one, and the question of suffrage is only a part of it. Still, some activists see the Florid vote as a momentous one on the right side of history and of that re-integration.