These Are the Important State Referendums You Need to Watch on Election Day

Politics Lists 2018 Elections
These Are the Important State Referendums You Need to Watch on Election Day

I know that you’re probably exhausted from polling and House forecasts and racist Trump statements about various candidates, so take a break from all that to read about some vitally important elections tomorrow that largely fall under the national radar: referendums.

I love referendums. In fact, I think they’re the best part of voting. As inspirational as some candidates may seem, plenty fail to fulfill their promises upon winning an election (coughObamacough). Referendums are different. Referendums cut out the middle man (legislators) and let the public decide policy for themselves. Referendums are how Colorado legalized marijuana, or how Maine overruled their Trumpian governor to get the Medicaid expansion promised to the state by the federal government (it’s also how the UK left the EU during “Brexit”). There are tons of important referendums on the ballot tomorrow, and many will have far larger impacts on the nation than a good chunk of the candidates running for office. Here is a list of the most important referendums by state.

Medicaid Expansion

There are five states with a lot of important referendums on the ballot that we’ll get to shortly, but four states are following Maine’s lead in voting to overrule their intransigent Republican governor. The Affordable Care Act dramatically expanded Medicaid, as Obama created a program that effectively gave states free money to give their poorest people health care coverage. Turns out that Republican governors hate Obama more than they like helping their poorest citizens to not die, and Idaho, Montana, Nebraska and Utah have not accepted the Medicaid expansion, among other states. Citizens in those four states will go to the polls tomorrow with an opportunity to overrule their governor and get the free federal money promised to them through the Affordable Care Act.


My home state has some vitally important referendums that, like marijuana legalization, will likely trickle into other states via referendum if they are successful.

Voting Rights

The word “gerrymandering” doesn’t even exist in many countries, and if passed, amendments Y and Z will bring Colorado into modern democracy by appointing independent commissions to draw boundaries, hopefully inspiring other states to follow Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana and Washington’s lead of not allowing politicians to pick their voters.

In Golden, known as the place where Coors beer is made, a referendum is on the ballot to lower the voting age for local races to 16, and Denver is voting on a potential radical (good) change to how we fund our elections. Per 5280, new rules would require candidates to disclose all campaign spending, limit the amount private citizens can donate, and restrict business and union donations. It would also introduce donation matching through a “fair elections fund” that would multiply each private donation by as much as nine times the amount given, thus empowering small donors.

Oil and Gas

The backdrop to this election is the new report stating that mankind has roughly ten years to quite literally stage a revolution and stop our reliance on fossil fuels, or humongous swaths of the Earth will be uninhabitable in twenty years. Colorado is a state that is wholly owned by the oil and gas lobby, and two referendums are going to test their power. First, proposition 112 is a simple, pretty straight-forward measure that is being portrayed by oil and gas special interests as the end of commerce as we know it. The proposal would require new projects to be at least 2,500 feet from buildings, parks and wildlife areas (the current law is 500 feet).

In 2004, Oregon voters voted to pass a law compensating land owners for any losses they incurred thanks to government decisions. It sounds like a pretty straightforward and harmless law, but there were so many problems that arose from it, Oregon wound up repealing the law. Amendment 74 is proposing that Colorado follow the same path, and it is backed by the farm and oil and gas lobbies. Advertising here makes it look like regular homeowners are affected by the policy, when in actuality, it has far more to do with industrialists and their insatiable desire to control as much land in this country as possible. My fellow Coloradans, please vote no on 74 and yes on 112. The future of the planet depends on it.


Florida is home to perhaps the most important election tomorrow, as not only is there a stark choice for governor between a true progressive and a bootlicking Trump acolyte, but the Senate and House have close races in Florida and there are some referendums that could change how that state votes forever.

Voting Rights

For my money, this is the most important referendum in all of America tomorrow. Floridians have the opportunity to reverse decades of mass disenfranchisement (10% of its voting-age population is ineligible to vote) and award the vote to up to 1.5 million people. As it currently stands, Floridians must wait five years after completion of a felony sentence to apply for their voting rights to be restored. That application process takes a long time, and since Republican Rick Scott became Florida governor in 2011, only 3,000 people have had their voting rights restored. Amendment 4 would completely overhaul this system designed to slow-walk people’s democratic rights, and would automatically restore one’s voting rights after completing a felony sentence (except for instances of murder and sexual assault).

Marsy’s Law

This was passed in California and five other states, and versions of it are on the ballot in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Nevada and Oklahoma. This proposal enshrines victims’ rights in the state constitution, and according to The Appeal, “strengthen victims’ ability to testify at hearings, mandate that they be notified of certain developments, and often empower them to refuse to speak with defense attorneys; they also broaden who is classified as a victim.”

Oil and Gas

This is perhaps the most ridiculous and important measure going. A yes vote on Amendment 9 would do two things in Florida:

1. Ban offshore drilling for oil and natural gas on lands beneath all state waters.

2. Ban “vaping” in enclosed indoor workplaces.

Welcome to America, where democracy gets subverted by a 37-member Florida Constitution Revision Commission who put these two dramatically different initiatives under one amendment, citing both as “environmental” concerns. It’s difficult to find proof of why this happened, but if you think the oil and gas lobby which owns every square inch of our politics didn’t have something to do with this bizarre coupling, then I have some Florida swampland I’d like to sell you.


The vast majority of the big referendums across the country concern voting rights, and there are large-scale efforts to create the democracy that is promised but never delivered to us American citizens. Michigan is a big part of that fight.

Voting Rights

Like Colorado, Michigan is one of 28 states whose state legislature is in charge of drawing their own districts. If passed, Proposal 2 would create an independent commission to draw Michigan’s districts, and applications to sit on the commission will be sent to 10,000 Michigan voters at random.

Proposal 3 would add automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting (the latter allows any Michigan citizen to cast an absentee ballot). These are more simple democratic measures that would increase the number of people allowed to vote. The fact that we have to fight for this basic stuff shows how far America really has to go in order to be considered a representative democracy.


This is also a voting rights issue, as marijuana has been used by the War on Drugs to disenfranchise millions of minorities. Proposal 1 would fully legalize marijuana for everyone 21 and over in the state of Michigan. The problem with referendums like this and many others across the country is that they do not take into account the reality that the revenue from marijuana legalization will flow more towards white communities than historically disenfranchised African American communities.

The Detroit NAACP has actually come out and opposed Proposal 1, because of the fear that marijuana will follow the lead of the alcohol and tobacco industries, and prey on communities of color. If America wants to get serious about reparations for African Americans, marijuana legalization is a good place to start. Proposal 1 is important in that it reduces the police’s ability to target minorities (black men aged 18 to 24 in Michigan are ten times as likely to be arrested for pot than white women that age, despite the fact that use between the two groups is about equal), but it doesn’t go far enough to address the sordid history of marijuana prohibition and its direct relation to jailing millions of minorities.


One of the reddest states in the country has three proposals that would make it dramatically more liberal.

Voting Rights

Currently, Missouri’s legislative districts are redrawn after each census by a commission whose members are appointed by the governor from nominees submitted by both parties. Amendment 1 would create a new independent position that draws districts based on “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness.” It would also prohibit lawmakers from accepting gifts worth more than $5 from lobbyists, and it would require that politicians wait two years after the end of their last term before becoming lobbyists. Amendment 1 would also make lawmakers subject to the state open-records law and forbid candidates from raising money on state property.

Minimum Wage

Missouri’s current minimum wage is an appalling $7.85 per hour, and if Proposition B passes, the minimum wage would immediately rise to $8.60, with an 85 cent per hour increase until 2023, where the minimum wage will be $12 per hour. It will also increase the penalty for employers for not meeting the minimum wage.


Missouri has three referendums on the ballot to legalize medical marijuana. Each of them allows for patients to obtain the drug if they suffer from a qualifying condition, but they are all taxed differently and only one allows patients to grow the plant in their own homes. If more than one were to pass, the one with the most votes will become law.

North Carolina

Thanks to the last decade of unrepentant and extrajudicial Republican rule, North Carolina is not a democracy, according to the Electoral Integrity Project. In fact, “North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.”

Voting Rights

The state will decide on a measure whether to amend North Carolina’s constitution to require photo ID in order to vote. While this may seem innocuous on its face, the history of voter ID laws is anything but. There is no question that they are designed specifically to stop people from voting, as the ACLU detailed:

Voter ID laws deprive many voters of their right to vote, reduce participation, and stand in direct opposition to our country’s trend of including more Americans in the democratic process. Many Americans do not have one of the forms of identification states acceptable for voting. These voters are disproportionately low-income, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Such voters more frequently have difficulty obtaining ID, because they cannot afford or cannot obtain the underlying documents that are a prerequisite to obtaining government-issued photo ID card.

State Income Tax

In its bid to become America’s least democratic state, North Carolina is also proposing to reduce the amount of tax revenue it takes in. Currently, the state constitution says the income tax rate can be no more than 10%. This measure proposes to reduce it to 7%, and per the Asheville Citizen Times, “The proposed constitutional amendment on Tuesday’s ballot won’t cut your taxes – or anyone else’s. But it would limit the state’s ability to raise the amount you pay in the future.”

No one likes paying taxes, but people like the stuff that comes from tax revenue, like bridges and roads. Lowering this threshold would make it far more difficult for North Carolina to pay for unexpected expenses, like rebuilding the areas devastated by Hurricane Florence. This is just another law designed to be friendly to business interests at the expense of the many.

Power Over Judges and Elections

It’s not a coincidence that these two measures appeared on the ballot once North Carolina elected a Democratic governor. Right now, the North Carolina governor appoints people to oversee election commissions and also replaces judges. Two ballot measures would strip the governor of those rights, and give it to the state legislature—which, surprise surprise—is currently Republican. All five of the state’s living former governors—three Democrats and two Republicans—oppose this measure.

Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.

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