Republican gerrymandering, voter suppression, and our very electoral system itself often present great challenges to preserving free and fair elections in America, but voters will get the chance to weigh in on many key ballot measures in November that could help fix these problems—or exacerbate them. Below, we take a look at the most important ballot measures that affect redistricting, voting rights, and campaign finance, and what their impact could be.
Among this year's biggest election-related ballot measures are five that would reform redistricting in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah. These measures would impact both congressional and legislative redistricting except in Missouri, where only the legislative line-drawing would be affected. (In Colorado, one measure pertains to Congress and a separate one to the legislature.) While the specifics in each case differ—you can delve into the details in this backgrounder—the passage of each of these measures would help strike a critical blow against gerrymandering, which in these states has chiefly come at the hands of Republicans.
Several key measures to expand voting rights are also on the ballot, and we've covered those in our weekly Voting Rights Roundup newsletter. Chief among those is Florida's Amendment 4 to significantly curtail a Jim Crow-era law that disenfranchises everyone with a felony conviction for life unless their voting rights are individually restored by the governor and cabinet. Amendment 4 could re-enfranchise nearly 1.5 million voters—a group that is disproportionately African-American—and nearly every poll shows it passing, though it needs to win 60 percent of the vote to become law.
In Michigan, Proposal 3 would dramatically expand voting rights in one of the states that's currently among the worst in the country in terms of making voting accessible. It would do so by tearing down registration barriers and letting anyone vote an absentee ballot for any reason. Polls also find that measure prevailing. Similarly, Nevada is voting on automatically registering voters, which is part of Michigan’s package as well. Maryland could also expand voting access by permitting same-day registration on Election Day instead of just during the early voting period.
However, not all of the measures on the ballot are positive.
In Montana, where roughly two-thirds of all votes are cast by mail, a Republican-backed proposal to restrict who can turn in mail ballots is intended to make it harder to vote. That’s especially so for Native Americans who live on remote reservations and rely on post office boxes, and the proposal is similar to an existing restriction in Arizona. Arkansas may also enshrine its voter ID requirement in its constitution after Republicans there put it on the ballot.
In North Carolina, Republicans passed deceptively worded amendments that would effectively gerrymander the judicial branch by letting the legislature—which is itself gerrymandered to benefit the GOP—fill judicial vacancies, a power they plan to use to pack the state Supreme Court and flip it to Republicans. A separate amendment would deliberately gridlock the state elections board so that Democrats can't expand early voting. Polling is limited, but a recent survey found both amendments failing. Meanwhile, a voter ID amendment doesn't even specify which types of ID are acceptable and aims to suppress black voters while exempting disproportionately Republican absentee voters.
In South Dakota, Republicans became apoplectic after voters passed a 2016 initiative to impose ethics and lobbying restrictions, prompting the GOP to literally declare a state of emergency in order to repeal the measure. Activists are trying again this year, this time with a constitutional amendment that can't be overturned by the legislature that would restore those reforms and impose new rules against the legislature tampering with voter-approved measures. However, Republicans are countering by trying to require that future ballot measures win 55 percent of the vote to pass, bar them from addressing multiple topics, and ban out-of-state contributions, the last of which likely violates the First Amendment.
Meanwhile, three localities will vote on changes to the way they elect local offices. Fargo, North Dakota, could become the first place in America to adopt "approval voting" in place of plurality-winner elections. That would let voters cast one vote each for as many candidates as they approve of, and whoever has the most votes prevails. Memphis, Tennessee, will vote on whether to repeal a decade-old instant-runoff voting law that has never been implemented. Finally, Lane County, Oregon's, "STAR voting" system would let voters score candidates on a scale of one to five points. The two candidates with the highest total points would go to an instant runoff where each would receive one vote per voter who scored them highest.
In the small Denver suburb of Golden, Colorado, voters will decide whether to lower the voting age to 16 in local elections, something that's the norm in a handful of countries like Austria and Brazil. This reform has been gaining steam after a few small municipalities began enacting it across the country this decade, but it has yet to prevail in any major city.
Voters also have the chance to enact campaign finance restrictions and provide for publicly funded campaigns in several cities, including Denver, Colorado; Baltimore, Maryland; Portland, Oregon; and New York City. However, New York's amendment has divided city Democrats and could present some problems by making public money available earlier in the election cycle, which could see candidates qualify for funding yet fail to make the ballot. It also makes the new contribution limits voluntary for the city’s next elections in 2021.
You can find a more expansive list of election-related 2018 ballot measures in the chart below, and you can view our full list of measures to watch on a variety of topics in this spreadsheet. The spreadsheet details whether each measure was placed on the ballot by elected representatives or whether it was directly initiated by voters, as well as whether it's a statute or amends a state constitution or local government charter. You can also find upcoming posts in this ongoing series here.
|Eliminates legislative special elections if a vacancy arises in the final year of the four-year term
|Requires a photo ID to vote (already required by statute)
|Lowers the age requirement for to run for legislative office from 25 to 21
|Establishes an independent congressional redistricting commission
|Establishes an independent legislative redistricting commission
|Automatically restores voting rights to those who have completed their felony sentences, except for murder or felony sexual offenses
|Bans those with felony convictions from seeking office within five years of completing their sentence unless pardoned
|Allows for same-day voter registration on Election Day instead of just during early voting
|Creates an independent redistricting commission
|Implements automatic and same-day voter registration, no-excuse absentee voting, straight-ticket voting, and routine election audits
|Implements partisan fairness criterion for legislative redistricting, plus state lobbying and campaign finance restrictions
|Restricts those who aren't postal workers, elections officials, family members, caregivers, or acquaintances from turning in someone else's mail ballot
|Implements automatic voter registration
|Legislative Appointments to Elections Board
|Transfers power to appoint the state board of elections from the governor to the legislature and creates a four-to-four deadlock between the major parties
|Voter ID Amendment
|Requires photo ID to vote in person but not by mail absentee
|Bans non-citizens from voting in state or local elections
|State Question 798
|Ends separate elections for lieutenant governor and provides for a joint ticket with the governor
|Makes the superintendent of education an appointed position
|Constitutional Amendment W
|Restores ethics reforms repealed by the legislature in 2017 and prohibits future legislative tampering with ballot initiatives without voter input
|Constitutional Amendment X
|Requires a 55 percent supermajority for constitutional amendment ballot measures
|Constitutional Amendment Y
|Creates a single-subject rule for constitutional amendments
|Initiated Measure 24
|Bans out-of-state contributions to ballot measure committees
|Creates a bipartisan advisory redistricting commission and imposes nonpartisan standards on legislatively drawn maps
|Establishes public campaign financing for local elections
|Creates a public financing system to match donations at a 9:1 ratio up to $50 for participating candidates; bans corporate, business, and labor contributions; and lowers all contribution limits
|Implements approval voting for local elections
|Lowers the voting age to 16 in local elections
|Lane County, OR
|Implements "Score Then Automatic Runoff" for county elections and eliminates primaries
|Los Angeles, CA
|Realigns local primary election dates with state primary dates
|Referendum Ordinance No. 5677
|Repeals instant-runoff voting law that hasn't been implemented yet
|New York, NY
|Lowers the campaign contribution limit and increases the amount of matching public funds
|Creates campaign contribution and expenditure limits for local office