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State questions

Voters decided ballot initiatives on life, drugs, labor, and crime

Demonstrators hold signs as part of the Louisiana Life March South in Baton Rouge. Travis Spradling/The Advocate

State questions
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As Republicans and Democrats wrestled for control of the United States House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House on Nov. 3, voters across the country decided statewide issues that other states may eventually consider. Here’s a rundown of some of this election’s most important statewide ballot initiatives.

Voters in Colorado and Louisiana weighed in on two pro-life ballot initiatives with mixed results. In Colorado, a measure that would have protected unborn children after 22 weeks of gestation failed, earning only 41 percent of votes. But in Louisiana, 62 percent of voters approved an amendment that clarifies abortion is not a right under the state constitution.

Pro-lifers say the results should further motivate pro-life Democrats, who strongly supported both measures. In Louisiana, the Love Life initiative won a greater share of voters than did Donald Trump, who earned 58 percent of the state’s popular vote.

“It shows that there were Democrats who weren’t willing to vote for President Trump who then came and voted for the Love Life Amendment,” said Louisiana Right to Life executive director Benjamin Clapper.

According to a 2020 Gallup poll, 24 percent of Democrats identify themselves as pro-life. That’s about 20 million Democratic voters who oppose abortion. These voters show their influence in bipartisan efforts such as the Louisiana initiative, an amendment authored by state Sen. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe).

24 percent of Democrats identify themselves as pro-life.

The support of pro-life Democrats couldn’t secure a similar victory for Colorado’s measure. But Democrats for Life executive director Kristen Day chalks up the failure in Colorado to misinformation from pro-abortion groups. “We were just outspent and outmanipulated by the abortion lobby,” she said.

While groups supporting the Colorado initiative had about $537,000 to work with, the opposition raised almost $7 million from organizations like Planned Parenthood. These groups spread misleading information saying the measure made no exceptions for victims of rape or incest, even though the law would have allowed for abortions in any case up to 22 weeks.

“There’s no reason why it shouldn’t have passed ... if you look at the issue as is without the manipulation from the abortion side,” said Day. In October, she described the measure as being “mainstream” and in line with Democratic values. A 2019 poll conducted by YouGov and Americans United for Life found that 68 percent of Americans who describe themselves as “pro-choice” oppose abortion in the third trimester, which begins at 28 weeks. According to Gallup data, only 18 percent of Democrats believe late-term abortions should be legal.

Louisiana’s ballot initiative had obvious advantages over Colorado’s: Before appearing on the ballot, the Love Life Amendment had to go through the legislative process. Jackson first filed the amendment in March 2019. That gave pro-life politicians and lobbyists time to campaign for the initiative and educate voters on the issue. Meanwhile, the language for the Colorado initiative wasn’t approved until September 2019. Colorado also is home to a strong pro-abortion movement. Louisiana’s largely pro-life leanings meant politicians and lobbyists there had an easier job.

Still, Clapper noted, “Even though our state is pro-life, we knew that if we didn’t put on a strong campaign, it could be a toss-up.”

Day described the abortion lobby as “a corporation that wants to keep abortion legal so that they can keep making money.” She noted that pro-life organizations don’t make money from women keeping their babies, but instead offer support and supplies: “We, in fact, spend money if we’re successful and a woman chooses life.”

Despite their financial disadvantage, pro-lifers have every reason to continue pushing against abortion, Day said: “We have to fight just as hard as the abortion lobby because we’re fighting for what’s right.”

Oregon voters on Election Day approved two first-in-the-nation ballot initiatives that significantly relax the state’s drug laws. One measure decriminalizes recreational drugs, and the other legalizes the sale of psychedelic mushroom products at licensed outlets.

The first initiative, Measure 110, reduces the penalty for possessing a small amount of a controlled substance, including methamphetamines, heroin, and fentanyl. Previously, misdemeanor or felony convictions for possession of illegal drugs could land offenders heavy fines or jail time.

But Oregon voters approved reclassifying such offenses as lesser violations resulting in $100 fines or having to take a health assessment. Making or selling illegal drugs will still be a felony, and someone with a “substantial quantity of controlled substances” could get a misdemeanor conviction. The measure will also reallocate tax revenue from legal marijuana sales to addiction recovery centers that provide case management, peer support, and treatment referrals for people with addictions.

Four committees that were registered in support of the measure reported more than $5.7 million in contributions. The New York–based Drug Policy Alliance—which advocates for decriminalizing drugs—contributed more than $4.5 million of that.

The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission estimated that convictions for drug possession would drop by 91 percent under Measure 110. Supporters rejoiced that the measure could reduce drug convictions that disproportionately incarcerate minorities and would promote a health-focused approach to addiction. Opponents warned the measure would remove a significant path to treatment—drug courts. The addiction recovery centers are not residential recovery programs, and courts can’t mandate offenders use the programs under Measure 110.

Oregon’s second drug ballot initiative, Measure 109, passed with 56 percent of the vote. It allows the manufacturing, purchase, and consumption of psilocybin mushroom products at dedicated service centers. (Psilocybin is a psychedelic substance.) The Oregon Health Authority has two years to determine product labeling, dosage, and regulations for psilocybin manufacturers and “facilitators”—people who dispense the drug.

Once the program is active, adults age 21 and older may go to psilocybin service centers to buy and consume products after a preparation session with a facilitator. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies psilocybin as a Schedule I controlled substance, and possessing and distributing it remains illegal under federal law.

Two committees supporting the measure received $4.5 million in donations. The largest donor, New Approach PAC, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit promoting marijuana legalization, contributed more than $3.3 million.

Proponents say these psilocybin centers will help people struggling with depression, anxiety, and addiction to other drugs. In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration labeled psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” and sped up research on depression treatments using the drug.

But opponents of Measure 109 pointed out breakthrough therapy designation is not the same as FDA approval. The American Psychiatric Association wrote a letter opposing the measure: “Science does not yet indicate that psilocybin is a safe medical treatment for mental health conditions.”

California ballot measures yielded mixed results that didn’t tilt toward just one side of the political spectrum.

One hot-button measure was Proposition 22, which allows gig companies such as Uber (private taxi service) and DoorDash (food delivery) to continue treating workers as independent contractors, thus enshrining into law a third employment category of “contract gig worker.” California voters approved the measure with 58 percent of the vote, according to early results.

The initiative represented backlash against California’s Assembly Bill 5, a state labor law that attempted to force companies to reclassify their independent contractors—or “gig” workers—as employees. The law affected other freelancers, from journalists to yoga instructors. Companies such as Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Postmates spent more than $200 million campaigning for Proposition 22, making it the most expensive ballot initiative battle in state history. Meanwhile, opponents framed the measure as a social justice issue, saying wealthy gig companies are trying to avoid providing benefits and protections to workers.

The measure gained national attention because Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden expressed support for AB 5 and a similar federal bill called the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act). The fact that Proposition 22 passed in a liberal state doesn’t bode well for lawmakers, activists, and unions seeking to regulate the gig economy.

Media reports on Proposition 22 claimed that big money swayed votes, but another campaign with lots of financial backing failed. Supporters of Proposition 16 raised about $31 million and enjoyed the backing of established institutions and celebrities during a year of heightened racial awareness, yet voters rejected it 56 percent to 44 percent.

The initiative would have reinstated affirmative action for government agencies and public universities in California by overturning a controversial 1996 state ballot measure. Voters in liberal urban areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco mostly supported Proposition 16, but voters elsewhere turned it down. Supporters say that race and gender still create big barriers in advancement and that merit-based hiring and admission philosophies ignore the still-existing effects of systemic racism.

But those opposed included many Asian Americans who worry their children would face discrimination under affirmative action policies, particularly in elite universities. California isn’t the only liberal state to reject restoring affirmative action. Washington also rejected a similar measure last year, which suggests most voters no longer consider affirmative action a proper solution to racial disparities.

Meanwhile, California voters on Election Day showed an increasing aversion to tough-on-crime policies by passing Proposition 17 (59 percent to 41 percent), which gave people on parole for felony convictions a right to vote. They also rebuffed Proposition 20 (62 percent to 38 percent), which would have increased penalties for certain crimes and made it harder for some convicted felons to qualify for early parole and prison release. These results are in line with voters’ 2014 passage of Proposition 47, which reclassified certain nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. California’s momentum on criminal justice reform chugs on.

Leah Savas

Leah reports on pro-life topics for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital. She is a World Journalism Institute and Hillsdale College graduate. Leah resides in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband, Stephen.


Charissa Koh

Charissa is a WORLD reporter who often writes about poverty-fighting and criminal justice. She resides with her family in Atlanta.


Sophia Lee

Sophia is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute and University of Southern California graduate. Sophia resides in Los Angeles, Calif., with her husband.



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