The 2018 midterm elections have come and gone. While people across the country paid close attention to the balance of power in Congress and state legislatures, we also tracked results from one of the most direct forms of democracy available to Americans: the ballot initiative. Voters weighed in on a host of high-profile issues and, for the most part, passed measures to protect and expand the rights of people across the country.
Florida’s Amendment 4, which repealed a Jim Crow-era disenfranchisement law, was among the most notable. The amendment, which garnered 64 percent of the vote (and required 60 percent to pass) restores access to voting rights to as many as 1.4 million people convicted of felonies. That’s potentially the largest expansion in the state since the passage of the Voting Rights Act and could permanently alter politics in the country’s favorite swing state.
Voters in Arkansas and Missouri both decided to give a combined one million workers a much-needed raise. The minimum wage in Arkansas will raise from $8.50 to $11 by 2021, while Missouri’s will go from $7.85 to $12 by 2023. The voters in both states passed the raises with overwhelming support — with 68 percent of the vote in Arkansas and 62 percent in Missouri — despite opposition from state governments who failed to passed legislative wage increases in previous years.
The news in Missouri is especially welcome to St. Louis workers, who passed an ordinance in 2015 to gradually raise the city’s wage floor to $11 an hour. Business interests spent two years tying up the measure in courts. Just weeks after it finally went into effect, the state’s Republican legislature passed a preemption law that banned cities from raising their wage floors higher than the state’s minimum. But voters hope another newly passed amendment will help reduce the effects of the business lobby in the state legislature. Amendment 1, which creates sweeping campaign finance and redistricting reforms, also passed with 62 percent of the vote.
Voters in Massachusetts upheld a law protecting the right of trans people in public accommodations. The measure, which passed with overwhelming success, is especially timely given the Trump administration’s continued threats against trans people. Trans Americans — especially people of color — face high poverty and unemployment rates, making the measure even more necessary.
Healthcare was another one of the most popular demands of the night, as three traditionally Republican states — Utah, Nebraska, and Idaho — passed Medicaid expansion initiatives. An additional 300,000 low-income people are expected to gain coverage under the newly passed measures. Montana, however, failed to pass a measure that would continue their state’s expansion — set to expire in 2019 — while raising taxes on tobacco products.
Thanks to the 65 percent of voters who said yes to Amendment A, Colorado officially abolished slavery as a form of punishment by removing a clause in the state’s constitution that kept it legal for those convicted of a crime. The amendment comes just months after incarcerated people around the country staged massive strikes in protest of poor working conditions and pay in American prisons.
More than three-quarters of Colorado voters also passed Proposition 111, which limits the interest rates lenders can charge on payday loans to 36 percent — significantly lower than the state’s current average rate of 129 percent on such loans. Before the proposition passed, lenders in Colorado could demand interest rates as high as 214 percent.
Despite those gains, Colorado also voted against a change to the tax structure that would have put more than a billion dollars towards a woefully underfunded education system. The state’s teachers, who staged protests and walkouts earlier this year over the poor pay and funding, vowed to press forward to secure more money for education.
The amendment was one of several tax-related measures that failed to pass on Tuesday night. Voters in Maine decided against an initiative that would have taxed the top 3 percent of earners to create a universal home care fund, thanks in part to massive donations from state industry groups representing bankers and hospitals.
California’s Proposition 10 was also blocked with help from moneyed interests. The measure, which would have repealed the restrictive Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act that keeps cities from implementing rent control policies, was targeted by the same private equity companies that have bought up housing across the state, driving up rents in rapidly gentrifying areas of California. Some of the organizers pushing for the repeal of Costa Hawkins are teaming up with tenant advocates in New York and Illinois to demand newly elected governors (re-elected, in New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s case) fix poor housing regulations and instate rent hike moratoriums in their states.
And while the statewide measure didn’t pass, a handful of California cities successfully voted in policies to address the affordable housing and homelessness crisis. Oakland passed a slew of measures to make housing more equitable, including increased renter protections from eviction, a vacancy tax on properties used less than 50 days a year, and a change in the property tax structure to ensure high-end homeowners pay their fair share. In addition to those initiatives, Oakland voters also passed a measure to establish workplace protections and higher wage standards for the city’s hotel workers.
Voters in Mountain View and San Francisco also passed tax proposals to ensure profitable tech companies are funding solutions to the homeless crisis, which was recently called a human rights violation by the United Nations. Mountain View’s head tax, which is primarily aimed at Google, has drawn comparisons to a recent tax that the Seattle city council recently passed and immediately repealed after pressure from Amazon.
San Francisco’s newly passed Proposition C, which will raise taxes on businesses with revenues greater than $50 million, gained national attention when it turned into a battle between the billionaires. Many tech companies and their CEOs, like Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Square fame, spent tens of thousands in opposition to the measure. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, an outspoken supporter of the measure, wasn’t surprised by their antagonism towards a tax aimed at helping the homeless.
“We have 70 billionaires in San Francisco [Bay Area region],” Benioff told The Guardian last month. “Not all of them are giving money away. A lot of them are just hoarding it. They’re keeping it. That’s just who they are and how they look at their money.”