On Nov. 8, voters decided 133 ballot measures. Earlier this year, voters weighed in on five measures, and Louisianans will see three more in December, bringing the 2022 total to 141.
Most measures get on the ballot in one of two ways: Through a citizen initiative—where citizens have an idea for a statutory or constitutional change and gather signatures to place it on the ballot—or through a referral to the ballot from the legislature. Occasionally, voters try to repeal a law passed by the legislature, and that is known as a popular referendum or people’s veto. This year voters across the nation considered:
- 104 legislative referrals in 35 states.
- 29 citizen initiatives in 12 states and Washington, D.C.
- Two popular referenda—one each in California and Massachusetts.
- Three automatic questions in Alaska, Missouri and New Hampshire asking voters if they’d like to have a constitutional convention. Voters said no to all three.
- Three non-binding advisory questions: One in Idaho and two in Washington, which are automatically referred to the ballot whenever the Evergreen State’s legislature passes a bill creating or increasing taxes or fees.
Information about all individual ballot measures can be found on NCSL’s statewide ballot measure database.
Legislatures and Legislators
Voters across the country decided at least 12 measures related to legislatures and legislators—far higher than in most years—and most were unsurprisingly referred to voters by the legislators themselves. Arkansas, Idaho and Kentucky all sought permission from voters to call themselves into special session, rather than requiring the call to come from the governor; read more about these measures in State Legislatures News. Arkansas and Kentucky voters said no, while Idaho said yes.
Three states—Kansas, Louisiana (two measures) and West Virginia—aimed to increase legislative oversight of various government entities or proceedings: The efforts failed in Kansas and West Virginia and won’t be decided until the December general election for Louisiana. North Dakotans approved an initiative to establish term limits for state legislators and governors. And in Michigan, voters also said yes to legislative term limits, changing the threshold from three two-year terms in the House and two four-year terms in the Senate (14 years total) to a combined 12 years.
Eligibility requirements were on the ballot in two states. Maryland voters decided state legislators must reside and maintain a residence in the district that they wish to represent for six months before an election. Tennessee voters removed the constitutional provision disqualifying religious ministers from being elected to the state legislature. Voters also decided new penalties for legislators in two states. Georgians approved a measure to suspend the pay of assemblymembers and other public officials if they are indicted for a felony. And in Oregon, voters passed a citizen initiative that will disqualify state legislators from re-election if they have 10 or more unexcused absences from floor sessions.
Abortion often features on voter’s ballots, and this year—in the wake of the Supreme Court overruling Roe v. Wade—voters saw six: the most abortion-related ballot measures ever in a single year. Kansas voters rejected an anti-abortion measure during the state’s Aug. 2 primary. That pro-choice trend looks to have continued in November. Voters approved constitutional rights to abortion in California, Michigan and Vermont. And two measures establishing abortion restrictions—legislative referrals in Kentucky and Montana—fell short.
In Oregon, voters approved a constitutional right to affordable health care. South Dakotans approved a citizen initiative to expand Medicaid, making it the 39th to expand Medicaid in the Affordable Care Act era. Arizonans passed a citizen initiative limiting interest rates on health care debt. And in California, voters rejected a citizen initiative related to dialysis clinic requirements—while not a common topic for ballot measures in other states, dialysis has been on the Golden State’s ballots for the last three general elections.
Drugs and Alcohol
Voters in five states were split on recreational marijuana this year: Maryland and Missouri said yes; Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota said no.
Coloradans approved an initiative to decriminalize certain psychedelic plants such as psilocybin; the first statewide measure on psilocybin passed in Oregon in 2020. Voters in the Centennial State also saw three initiatives relating to alcohol. They rejected an increase in liquor store licenses and authorization for alcohol delivery services, while narrowly passing a measure on grocery store wine sales. And Californians upheld a popular referendum banning the sale of flavored tobacco products.
Civil and Criminal Justice
Over the past few years, there has been a small trend to remove from state constitutions provisions that permit slavery or involuntary servitude as punishments for a crime. Voters in three states—Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont—voted to remove such language. Louisiana voters rejected a similar measure after the original sponsor started campaigning against it on the grounds that the final language was confusing and could lead to interpretations other than the initial intent.
Two states made changes to bail. In Alabama, voters decided to allow the state legislature to create criminal offenses for which bail may be denied. In Ohio, a measure requiring judges to set bail amounts based on public safety considerations passed. Another Alabama measure also passed, which requires the governor to provide notice to a victim’s family before commuting a death sentence. And in Montana, voters approved a legislatively referred measure that will require a search warrant to access a person’s electronic data—Michigan voters approved a similar measure in 2020.
Minimum wage increases fared well this year, succeeding in all three races. Nebraskans passed a citizen initiative to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2026, and Washington, D.C., residents approved an initiative increasing the tipped minimum wage of $5.05 to match the non-tipped minimum wage by 2027. In Nevada, voters passed a legislative referral that will increase the minimum wage to $12/hour by July 2024. Read more about the minimum wage measures in State Legislatures News. There were also two union-related measures on the ballot this year—both referred to voters by legislatures. Illinois voters approved a constitutional right to collective bargaining. And Tennessee voters enshrined the state’s “right to work” law in the constitution.
Several measures related to education this year. With bipartisan support, the Arizona legislature referred a question to voters asking if non-citizens should receive in-state college tuition. Voters said yes, repealing a previous measure approved in 2006 that prevented non-citizens from receiving in-state tuition. Four measures passed that increased education funding, primarily through income tax increases or bond measures, in California, Colorado, Massachusetts and New Mexico. And in West Virginia, voters rejected a question from the legislature that would have required legislative approval of any proposed rules from the state board of education.
Taxes are always on the ballot. Several of the education measures in the previous section would increase taxes on certain income brackets. Property taxes, though, are by far the most common type of tax measure on voters’ ballots this year—and most are exemptions or reductions. They passed in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas; failed in West Virginia. Two measures sought notable changes to property taxes in the face of natural disasters: a Florida measure allowing flood resistance improvements to be disregarded when assessing property value fell short of the needed 60% to pass, and in Georgia, voters overwhelmingly approved temporary property tax changes for areas damaged by disasters.
Other significant tax-related measures include a failed citizen initiative in California that would have taxed incomes above $2 million to fund zero-emission vehicle projects and wildfire prevention programs and an approved Colorado initiative that lowers the state income tax from 4.55% to 4.4%. In 2020, voters approved a similar income tax deduction placed on the ballot by the same sponsors.
Alabama voters said yes to local governments using American Rescue Plan Act funds for broadband internet infrastructure. New Mexicans considered not just broadband infrastructure, but natural gas, electric, water and more when they approved a measure authorizing the legislature to provide funds for household services infrastructure. And in New York, voters passed a bond measure to fund water infrastructure, climate change mitigation and land conservation projects.
Elections are a huge topic this year, featuring in a dozen different measures. An Arizona measure failed that would have made several changes to the state’s voter identification laws, including requiring voters using mail ballots to provide a birth date and voter ID number. Nebraskans approved an initiative to require photo ID at the polls, making the Cornhusker State the 36th with a voter ID law. Voters approved a legislatively referred measure in Connecticut amending the state constitution and paving the way for the legislature to enact early in-person voting.
In Nevada, an initiative to establish open top-five primaries and ranked-choice voting for general elections passed—but will need to pass again in 2024 before it can go into effect. No state currently uses top-five primaries, though California and Washington use a “top two” system, and Alaska uses “top four.”
In Michigan, voters said yes to sweeping changes to the state’s voting policies—including authorizing drop boxes, establishing nine days of early voting, allowing military and overseas ballots to be counted if postmarked by Election Day and requiring public disclosure of donations used to pay for elections or audits. Alabama voters passed a measure that will require any election law changes to be implemented at least six months before the next general election. Arizona voters approved a campaign finance initiative setting new disclosure requirements for independent expenditures. And voters in Ohio decided to prohibit non-citizens from voting in local elections—a controversial topic that will also be on the ballot in Louisiana in December. Read more about these measures in State Legislatures News.
Sometimes ballot measures, particularly citizen initiatives, are the subject of ballot measures—and this year there were more than usual. Three measures aimed to raise the vote threshold for some ballot measures from a simple majority to 60%. Arkansas and South Dakota rejected the change; Arizona approved it. Arizonans saw two additional measures related to direct democracy on their ballots: an effort to establish a single-subject rule for citizen initiatives (passed) and one allowing the legislature to amend or repeal voter-approved ballot measures that have been ruled unconstitutional by the state or federal supreme court (failed).
In Colorado, voters said yes to a legislatively referred measure that will require any initiative affecting income tax to have ballot titles and fiscal impact summaries that explain how the change would affect those taxes for people in different income categories. And in Florida, voters decided not to abolish the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years to propose changes to the state's constitution.
Other Notable Highlights
- Two California sports betting measures—the most expensive in U.S. ballot measure history—failed.
- An initiative in Colorado passed that will fund affordable housing projects with 0.01% of the state’s federal income tax revenue.
- Gun rights won on the ballot in Iowa; while a gun control measure won in Oregon.
- Nevadans approved an Equal Rights Amendment, which prohibits discrimination on account of race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, ancestry or national origin.
- Arkansas voters narrowly rejected the Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment, which would have provided that the government shall not burden a person’s freedom of religion.
- In Massachusetts, voters upheld a referendum on HB 4805, which would allow all residents to apply for driver's licenses, regardless of citizenship or immigration status.
- And Alabama voters overwhelmingly agreed to ratify the new Constitution of Alabama of 2022. In 2020, voters passed a measure authorizing the legislature to update the language in the constitution, and the new version removes racist language, deletes duplicative content, rearranges the sections and amendments and more. Unsurprisingly, this measure had bipartisan support and very little organized opposition.