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Criminal justice on the ballot

Several states pass initiatives that will change enforcement

A voter at a polling station in Portland, Ore., on Nov. 3 Associated Press/Photo by Paula Bronstein

Criminal justice on the ballot

Amid widespread public debate, many states put questions about policing, drug, and race issues to voters on Nov. 3.

Most ballot initiatives for police reform dealt with oversight and accountability. In Philadelphia; Portland, Ore.; and Columbus, Ohio, residents voted to create citizen boards to oversee police departments and investigate allegations of misconduct. While some of the boards are merely advisory, Portland’s initiative gave the panel authority to discipline and even fire officers.

Several California cities, including Oakland, San Diego, and San Francisco, restructured the oversight already in place and opened more resources for investigations into police misconduct. In King County, Wash., home to Seattle, residents voted to mandate investigations into police-involved deaths and changed the sheriff position from elected to appointed by the county council. Pittsburgh will require officers to cooperate with Independent Citizen Police Review Board investigations.

Also last week, California voters decided to let parolees vote or run for office. But they rejected initiatives to abolish the state’s bail system and return some crimes to the list of violent felonies. In Kentucky, voters approved Marsy’s Law, providing certain rights and protections to crime victims. In Michigan, police must now get a warrant before searching people’s electronic and digital communications. And residents of Utah and Nebraska voted to eliminate archaic state constitutional clauses allowing slavery to be used as punishment for crime.

Finally, several states loosened drug laws, hoping to reduce racial disparities in their prison populations and provide more medical options for offenders. Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota legalized marijuana possession and use, while Mississippi voters legalized medical marijuana for an approved list of conditions. Oregon voters approved two ballot initiatives: One decriminalized possessing a small amount of any drug, while the other created legal centers where people can purchase and use psilocybin mushroom products.

Charissa Koh

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



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