Voters Prepare to Decide on Important Ballot Initiatives in Midterm Elections


Gilberto Flores
National Beat Reporter

With the Nov. 4 midterm elections less than a week away, voters across the country are gearing up to vote on several important state and local ballot initiatives. Voters will be deciding on major issues such as marijuana legalization, minimum wage increases, and background checks for gun purchases. California voters will be deciding on similar issues.

Gun Background Checks

Washington has two competing gun background check initiatives on the ballot. Initiative 594 would require background checks for every gun purchase in the state. It would also make it illegal to temporarily give a gun to someone else, except in cases where someone is in immediate danger, is hunting, or is on a shooting range. Alternatively, Initiative 591 would keep the state from confiscating a person’s firearms without due process and would also keep the government from establishing background checks without a uniform federal standard. Both laws cannot exist at the same time. Polls from early October show slightly larger support for background checks, but support for both sides has steadily dropped since, leaving enough undecided voters to leave the fate of the dueling initiatives up in the air.

Washington voters will be deciding on these initiatives in the aftermath of a deadly school shooting on Friday, Oct. 24, where a 15-year-old high school student killed a female classmate and wounded four others in a school cafeteria, before killing himself. The shooter was a student at Marysville-Pilchuck High School north of Seattle, where the shooting took place.

Chicago has an advisory referendum on the ballot on whether to require background checks for gun sales and ban the sale of assault weapons. Meanwhile, Alabama voters will be deciding on Amendment 3, which would amend the state constitution to explicitly “provide that every citizen has a fundamental right to bear arms and that any restriction on this right would be subject to strict scrutiny,” and that no international law or treaty interferes with this right.

Marijuana Legalization and Drug Possession Charges

California voters will be voting on changing certain non-serious and nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. The initiative, Proposition 47, would apply to drug possession in addition to other minor offenses like petty theft, writing or forging bad checks, and receiving stolen property. The law would not apply to offenders who have committed previous serious or violent crimes, including sex offenders. Passage of the proposition would mean that offenders who commit these nonviolent drug crimes will receive reduced penalties and shorter jail time, providing a potential solution to the state’s overcrowded prison populations. Current polls demonstrate strong support among voters for the proposition.

Other states will be voting on major marijuana legalization initiatives. Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C. will be voting on statewide marijuana legalization, while Florida voters will be deciding on whether to amend the state constitution to allow medical marijuana in the state.

Alaska’s Measure 2 would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to one ounce and maintain six marijuana plants. The measure would legalize the production and sale of marijuana, the details of which would be regulated by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (or if created, the Marijuana Control Board). Polls demonstrate the measure has mixed support among voters, with enough undecided voters to sway the results in either direction.

Washington D.C. will be voting on Initiative 71, which will allow adults 21 and over to possess up to two ounces, grow up to six plants, and give marijuana to other adults 21 and over. The initiative does not legalize, regulate, or tax marijuana sales because election law does not allow D.C. voter initiatives to have a direct impact on the local budget. Thus, the initiative would only legalize possession and personal cultivation. A Washington Post poll demonstrated support for the initiative at 63%, with 34% opposed and 3% undecided, suggesting the D.C. initiative would be the most likely to pass.

Oregon’s Measure 91 would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to eight ounces and grow up to four plants. The measure would also legalize the production and sale of marijuana, which would be regulated by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. A recent DHM Research poll had the measure ahead with 52% supporting and 41% opposed, with 7% undecided. Aggregated polls demonstrate a close race with a yes vote at a slight advantage, undecided voters will likely be the determining factor in the final results.

Florida will not be voting to legalize the drug throughout the state, but rather will be voting to amend the state constitution to legalize medical marijuana to treat “debilitating medical conditions” like cancer, multiple sclerosis, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Parkinson’s, or “other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.” The amendment would give the task of regulating all aspects of medical marijuana sales, including licensing, dispensaries, and distribution, to the Florida Department of Health. Florida is usually a very politically divided state, and constitutional amendments must receive at least a 60% vote to pass. Aggregated polls suggest a high likelihood that the amendment will pass with over 60%.

The Drug Enforcement Administration considers marijuana to be a Schedule I drug under the federal government’s scheduling system. Created under the Controlled Substances Act, the scheduling system establishes five categories, or schedules, of controlled substances. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous, while Schedule V are the least dangerous. Schedule I drugs are considered “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” and include marijuana, heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Schedule II drugs include cocaine, methamphetamine, Adderall, and Ritalin. In 1970, Congress voted to specifically exempt tobacco and alcohol from the scheduling system. One of the reasons marijuana’s classification in the system has never been changed is because its medicinal value has never been officially established under any large scale clinical trials required by the FDA for drugs planned on entering the national market.

Minimum Wage Increases

Many states, and several California cities, will be voting on increasing the minimum wage. The federal minimum wage has stood at $7.25 an hour since July 2009. States usually have their own minimum wage laws, and employers are required to comply with both state and federal laws.

Oakland will be deciding on Measure FF, which would raise the minimum wage to $12.25 an hour and would require employers to offer a minimum of five sick leave days to all employees, while larger businesses would be required to provide nine days of sick leave. The measure also includes provisions that would allow hospitality workers to keep all of their wages and tips. San Francisco will be voting on Proposition J, an initiative that would raise the minimum wage to $12.25 on May 2015, then steadily increase each year until it reaches $15 an hour by July 2018, at which point the wage will then be based on inflation. Eureka will also be deciding on Measure R, which increases the minimum wage to $12 an hour. Small businesses with 25 or fewer employees would be exempt from this law.

California’s statewide minimum wage was increased to $9 an hour on July 2014, and is set to increase to $10 an hour on January 2016.

Alaska will be voting to increase the minimum wage to $8.75 an hour in 2015, which would then increase to $9.75 an hour in 2016. After this point, the wage would be based on inflation or one dollar above the federal minimum wage, depending on which is higher. Arkansas will be voting to increase the wage to $7.50 an hour in 2015 and $8.50 by 2017. Nebraska and South Dakota will also be voting on similar measures. Illinois has a statewide non-binding advisory vote to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour.