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These Four Ballot Initiatives Might Tell the Future

In two weeks, voters are going to decide on abortion, ranked-choice voting, voter ID requirements, and legalizing marijuana.
October 27, 2022
These Four Ballot Initiatives Might Tell the Future
(Photo by Ed JONES / AFP) (Photo by ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images)

The national political environment for the midterms will be driven by a number of obvious factors—inflation, gas prices—but at the state-level, the environments may be determined by a factor getting relatively little attention: ballot initiatives.

Of the nearly 130 ballot measures in states this November, there are four that stand out as having importance on which direction the country is heading.

In no particular order, they are an abortion vote in Kentucky, ranked-choice voting change in Nevada, stricter voter ID regs in Arizona, and marijuana legalization in Arkansas.

All four have national importance for both parties.

Abortion in Kentucky

Kentucky voters will decide whether to amend the state’s constitution to say residents do not have a right to abortions. Trigger laws in Kentucky went into effect after the Dobbs decision in June and if this vote passes, it could reinforce those laws.

The comparisons to Kansas—where a similar referendum was soundly defeated last August—are inevitable. Trump won both Kansas and Kentucky by big margins in 2016 and 2020. The states’ racial demographics and rural/urban population splits are similar. But one difference stands out: in Kansas, registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by roughly 350,000; in Kentucky they are evenly split.

Ranked-Choice Voting in Nevada

Ranked-choice voting has been gaining support in both national Republican and Democratic circles because three key groups–independents, suburban soccer moms, and conservative small-government folks—all seem intrigued by it.

In Alaska’s August primary election, the new ranked-choice system resulted in Democrat Mary Pelota knocking out longtime Republican star Sarah Palin for the state’s lone house seat.

Some cities and counties have adopted ranked-choice (New York City), but Nevada would be only the third state (after Alaska and Maine) to implement it if the measure passes. Most are predicting it will win in Nevada, given the state has a high percentage of voters who are new to the state and have less party affiliation because of that. The key question might be how much this wins by. If it’s close, other states might hold back on their own RCV initiatives. If it wins big, more states may try jumping into the RCV pool.

Also the RCV Nevada vote comes with one big stipulation: It has to pass this time around, and then again in 2024 in order to go on the books.

Voter ID Changes in Arizona

This measure is mostly standard-fare: asking for more standard-issue photo IDs at in-person voting and some additional ID requirements for voting by mail.

For years, any voter-ID requirements were viewed skeptically by Democrats, but the truth is that a large majority of voters—even large proportion of Democratic voters support them.

A study by Tufts University found that among Democrats, 44 percent of whites support stricter voter ID laws, while 59 percent of Hispanics and 55 percent of African-Americans do as well. (Again: Those numbers are just the racial subgroups of Democratic voters.)

The big question is how large a margin this initiative passes by and whether a large enough win could move Democrats elsewhere into being in favor of popular voter ID laws.

Marijuana Legalization in Arkansas

Sometimes it takes a political party a long time to realize that an issue has passed them by.

In 1972, just 15 percent of the public supported making marijuana legal; the latest numbers have it at 68 percent.

In the case of the Arkansas initiative which would legalize marijuana, polling had it running at about 60 percent to 40 percent in favor of legalization a month ago, though a poll this week had it lowered to 51 to 43 percent in favor, with 6 percent undecided.

Part of that decline is because Arkansas Republicans are against it and have pushed their legalized marijuana danger message. Here’s Sen. Tom Cotton:

And Republican gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is likely to win her race, said recently, “I don’t think that with the drug epidemic that we have across this state, frankly across the country, that adding and giving more access to [marijuana] does anything to benefit Arkansas, so I certainly wouldn’t be supportive of that.”

Retiring (because of term limits) Arkansas Republican governor Asa Hutchinson added“The science is clear. Recreational marijuana leads to increased drug use among minors & more dangerous roadways,”

A total of 19 states have legalized marijuana and Arkansas will likely be the first of the very red southern states to do so. And if it does, it will happen against the express opposition of the state’s dominant political party. What’s interesting here is that Republican candidates don’t seem to be paying any price for being on the wrong side of their voters.

But such is life in a one-party environment.

Party differences are very clear. Voter support of the policies are not so clear. The vote on these four issues might give a clearer indication of where the gap is widening, and by how much.

Daniel McGraw

Daniel McGraw is a freelance writer and author in Lakewood, Ohio. Follow him on Twitter @danmcgraw1.