TheGrio’s guide to state ballot initiatives

OPINION: Here are some of the ballot measures that give voters the power to directly affect the issues that impact Black America.

Pennsylvania Prepares For Midterm Elections
A placard that states "VOTE DEFEND DEMOCRACY on NOV. 8th" affixes to street pole the day before the midterm general election on November 7, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images) ()
A placard that states "VOTE DEFEND DEMOCRACY on NOV. 8th" affixes to street pole the day before the midterm general election on November 7, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

The people who cast ballots in Tuesday’s midterm elections aren’t just voting for parties or politicians. In every state, voters will have the chance to directly influence their communities and their lives through constitutional amendments, state propositions and other measures on the ballot. These initiatives eliminate the need for citizens to call their congressman or hope that their elected official makes the right choice. 

Unfortunately, some of these ballot initiatives sometimes contain complex wording that’s difficult to decipher. For instance, Alabama’s proposed constitutional amendment that would limit lawmakers’ ability to make changes to election law in an emergency (like mail-in voting during a pandemic, perhaps) reads:

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended; to provide that the implementation date for any bill enacted by the Legislature in a calendar year in which a general election is to be held and relating to the conduct of the general election shall be at least six months before the general election. (Proposed by Act 2021-284)

( )Yes 

( ) No

That’s why theGrio created this summary of some of the most important initiatives on the ballot this midterm election. 

Abortion

  • California codifies reproductive rights: California’s Proposition 1 amends the state constitution “to expressly include an individual’s fundamental right to reproductive freedom.” 
  • Kentucky aborts the right to choose: Kentucky’s Amendment 2 would add a note to the state constitution to let women in the Bluegrass State know they don’t have the right to control their bodies. “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion,” reads the amendment
  • Michigan creates a new right: Voting “yes” for Michigan Proposal 3 would establish a “new individual right to reproductive freedom, including the right to make all decisions about pregnancy and abortion; allow the state to regulate abortion in some cases; and forbid prosecution of individuals exercising established right.”
  • Montana’s “born alive” law: Instead of changing the constitution, Montana’s LR-31 declares that any “born-alive infant” is a person, and requires health care providers to preserve the life of the child — even during the course of an abortion.
  • Vermont doubles down: While Vermont state law already protects the right to abortion, a “yes” vote for Proposal 5 would affirm that “an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course” and should not be denied.

Democracy

Sometimes, you have to vote to make sure that you can vote. That’s why voting rights and access to democracy are on the ballot in a number of states. 

  • Arizona wants to make it hard to vote: Proposition 309 would require state or tribal ID to vote, outlawing the current alternatives such as utility bills. To request a mail-in ballot, voters would have to provide a state ID number or the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number, as well as their signature and date of birth.  
  • Connecticut early vote: Currently, Connecticut is one of four states that doesn’t have early voting. Question 1 would change that. 
  • Michigan expands voting rights: Michigan Proposal 2 would amend the constitution to codify early voting in the state constitution, create free mail-in ballots, allow signatures to be used as identification on absentee ballots, bans party officials from leading audits, and counts military ballots that are postmarked on Election Day. 
  • Nebraska’s voter ID TBD: Initiative 432 would require voters to produce a photo ID to vote. A “yes” vote would give the state legislature the right to determine which specific identification documents are acceptable.

Marijuana

The 2022 midterms are the first election with a slate of initiatives that don’t specify whether marijuana can be bought and sold for medical reasons vs. recreational reasons. 

They know.

  • Arkansas got five on it: Arkansas’ Issue 4 allows anyone over 21 years of age to possess as much as an ounce of weed, but it also uses 5 percent of the revenue to fund drug court intervention programs. The weed money will also provide a 15% stipend for certified law enforcement officers, so every time you smoke a blunt in Arkansas, you’re funding the police.
  • Missouri is truly the “show me” state: Amendment 3 would change the constitution to allow possession by all adults over the age of 21, as well as provide a path to expungement for those convicted of non-violent marijuana possession charges. Nurse practitioners will be able to prescribe the sticky-icky and police will not be able to use suspected marijuana possession as a pretext for a search.
  • Maryland adulting: The concept of Maryland’s new marijuana law is simple: “Y’all grown.” Question 4 legalizes marijuana possession for anyone over the age of 21.
  • North Dakota DIY weed: Statute 3 would allow adult North Dakotans to possess marijuana and to grow their own supply for personal use.
  • South Dakota stash law: Initiated Measure 27 in South Dakota is basically the same as North Dakota but specifies that the weed must be locked up… presumably to keep your cousin from smoking it. 

Policing and Criminal Justice

  • Guilty until proven innocent: Alabama Amendment 1 would amend Alabama’s constitution by adding a list of crimes for which a person can be held without bail. “Aniah’s Law” — named for kidnapping and murder victim Aniah Blanchard — lists the offenses that allow for a person to be incarcerated without a trial, including first-degree murder, burglary, terrorism and domestic violence.
  • Missouri makes defunding the police unconstitutional: Earlier this year, the Missouri legislature passed a law that mandated an increase in police funding. Kansas City’s Black mayor said: “Nah.” Missouri Amendment 4 settles the debate.
  • Montana’s “Gimme Yo Phone” law: With C-48, Montana will become the third state along with Michigan and Missouri that requires law enforcement authorities to obtain a warrant before searching a person’s electronic data. 
  • Ohio’s “Guilty Until Proven Guilty” amendment: Issue 1 would allow the Ohio state legislature to create laws that increase or deny bail to people charged with crimes. Ohio is basically Alabama with fewer banjos. 

Slavery

Slavery isn’t illegal. 

Because the 13th Amendment only abolished slavery “except as a punishment for a crime,” seven states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas) do not pay the vast majority of their incarcerated people while the vast majority pay pennies per hour for mandatory labor that produces $11 billion in goods and services. Unfortunately, only one of these five states put slavery on the ballot. 

  • Alabama’s CRT Slavery: Alabama’s current constitution is filled with Caucasian Race Theory, including laws that support segregation, poll taxes and a ban on marriage between “any white person and a Negro, or descendant of a negro.” The Alabama Recompiled Constitution Ratification Question would outlaw slavery as a byproduct of the statewide effort to remove the historically white language from the Alabama constitution. 
  • Louisiana’s pro-slavery law: Louisiana’s proposed constitutional amendment would not outlaw slavery. A “yes” vote for Amendment 7 would simply amend the constitution to note that involuntary servitude is fine if it “applies to the otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice.”  
  • Oregon adds alternatives: Not only would Oregon’s Measure 112 amend the state constitution to ban involuntary servitude, it requires its courts and parole agencies to “order a person convicted of a crime to engage in education, counseling, treatment, community service, or other alternatives to incarceration, as part of sentencing for the crime.
  • Tennesee redefines slavery: “Slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited,” reads Tennessee Constitutional Amendment 3, before adding: “Nothing in this section shall prohibit an inmate from working when the inmate has been duly convicted of a crime.” So…slavery.
  • Vermont: OK, this one is weird. See, Vermont’s constitution allows slavery as punishment for a crime, to repay debts, or if the person is under 21. Proposal 2 would remove all of those slave loopholes.

Other important issues

Nevada’s Question 2 would raise the minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2024. Tennessee’s Constitutional Amendment 2 would remove an old law from the constitution that bans religious leaders from holding elected office. Oregon wants to create a fundamental right to health care and require permits issued by law enforcement agencies to purchase firearms. And if it all seems like a lot, Colorado Proposition 142 would legalize hallucinogens such as mushrooms, ibogaine, DMT and peyote. 

Whatever it is that Kyrie smokes would still be illegal. 


Michael Harriot is a writer, cultural critic and championship-level Spades player. His book, Black AF History: The Unwhitewashed Story of America, will be released in 2022.

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