It was hard to hear over the din of Trump vs Clinton, but a number of positive changes were approved by voters around the country this election season. Our federal system, exemplified by the 10th Amendment, allows for a lot of leeway for states and local government to come up with their own solutions to problems in a way that best suits the unique needs of the people and the place. Each election, downballot measures let fifty flowers bloom.
You’ve probably already heard about the groundswell of popular support for marijuana initiatives. Florida, Arkansas, Montana and North Dakota legalized or otherwise expanded the right to medical marijuana, and Massachusetts, Nevada and California approved legal recreational use. This spread seems to signal that nationally, we’re starting to chill out about pot.
Maine, Arizona, Colorado and Washington all approved increasing their minimum wage by 2020 to no less than $12 per hour, while a South Dakota initiative to lower the minimum wage for underage non-tipped employees failed spectacularly.
Beyond the more buzz-generating ballot measures, though, are ways that states and communities are taking matters into their own hands for the public good. Earlier this summer, San Francisco area residents approved a small tax to restore wetlands around the bay they love so well. This is expected to provide a buffer that assists with the inevitable sea level rise and increase in storm activity that climate change will bring, while also sequestering carbon and increasing biodiversity.
The Bay Area also approved a tax on sugary drinks during the recent election, at the rate of one penny per ounce of sweet tea, sports drink, and soda, but the tax will not apply to naturally sweetened beverages or diet soda.
California now has a plastic bag ban, which might sound like overreach until you think about just how much Californian plastic must blow offshore and straight into the garbage gyres and the guts of passing sea turtles. Cheers to California for taking personal responsibility for the ocean.
Los Angeles ballot measure JJJ passed with 64% of the vote, which will require apartment builders who pursue zoning changes to give back by building affordable housing and paying their workers a reasonable wage.
Colorado voters approved a “right to die” measure by a two-to-one margin. This will allow terminally ill adults to choose to end their suffering legally, with doctor-prescribed sleeping medicine.
Some of the more interesting ballot measures approved by voters are related to food. A Massachusetts measure passed that makes it illegal to sell eggs, veal or pork from animals kept in closely confined quarters. Because this also applies to these animal products if they are produced elsewhere and imported to Massachusetts, this new law could have a ripple effect.
A ballot measure in Indiana that I mentioned previously has passed overwhelmingly, amending their state constitution’s bill of rights to include the right to hunt and fish. In New Mexico, residents of Santa Fe who have a backyard garden will now be allowed to sell their fruits and vegetables from their homes. (Perhaps Santa Fe gardeners will let fifty flowers bloom, literally?) I expect more measures like these in the times ahead, as people find new ways to feed themselves and their neighbors as other opportunities become harder to find.
Voters in Oklahoma defeated a proposal that would have removed the restriction on using public money for religious purposes. Advocates for removing the restriction waxed nostalgic about prayers at football games, but in the end, the Wall of Separation and religious freedom (in the form of not favoring any particular religion) prevailed.
And finally, an exciting change in Maine, where voters narrowly approved a measure that implements ranked choice voting. Instead of forcing voters to vote for one candidate, perhaps resulting in that dreaded Lesser Evilism, ranked choice voting will allow Mainers to vote for candidates in order of preference. When the votes are tallied, if there is no clear winner on the first go-round, the candidate that was least marked as a first choice is voted off the island (so to speak) and the voters who preferred that candidate have their votes reallocated to their second choice, eventually producing a winner that perhaps people will actually like. One can only hope that a similar reform spreads to the rest of the country.
So, the doom and gloom of the Presidential election has been nudged aside somewhat by a few rays of sun, shining from downballot initiatives across the fifty states. Let fifty flowers bloom, and perhaps we can pick the best of them to plant in our gardens. Heaven knows they could use a little brightening up!
How does ranked-choice voting work? by MPRdotOrg
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