Across the country, hundreds of state and local ballot initiatives will be voted on this year. Here is a look at a few issues that civil libertarians should care about.
To view the ballot you will see on November 8th go here. Please get out and vote!
Right to Assembly
San Francisco Public Works got into hot water in 2016 when the city decided to uproot the homeless population that resided around Division Street. The city cited public health concerns, but many were critical of the fact that the eviction solved very little. Homeless individuals were forced from their tent homes, and since they lacked any alternative public housing, they just dispersed elsewhere in the community.
Flash forward to now, Supervisor Mark Farrell has proposed a ballot measure called “Housing Not Tents” that would outlaw and make it easier to clear tents occupied by the homeless. Progressives are opposed to the measure because it fails to provide funding for alternative housing for the homeless and only gives 24 hours for homeless individuals to clear out all of their belongings.
The debate over the measure is timely, especially since a United Nations Special Rapporteur visited the United States in July in order to issue a report on the freedom of peaceful assembly and association. In his report, the Special Rapporteur mentions that homeless individuals often suffer considerably when cities pass ordinances that forbid them from going certain places. The Special Rapporteur reached this conclusion by meeting with civil society groups like Picture the Homeless, which explained that telling homeless individuals where they can and cannot reside arbitrarily is a direct assault on the right to assemble.
The death penalty is undoubtedly antiquated and barbaric. Research has shown that racial minorities and those that cannot afford legal representation are disproportionately sentenced to death, and has confirmed time and time again that the death penalty has no deterrent effect on future crime. In 2016, a number of states are trying to follow in the footsteps of the 20 states that have already abolished the death penalty.
California voters will be asked to choose between two ballot initiatives that propose solutions on the death penalty. The first is Proposition 62, which would repeal the death penalty and make the maximum sentence for a crime life without parole. Proposition 62 is backed by individuals that have formerly been on death row for crimes they did not commit, which is 156 people nationally, with 20 of those ex-inmates being from California. To read more about their stories, go here.
The second is Proposition 66, which would keep the death penalty and “reform” it by attempting to shorten the amount of time between sentencing and execution. Prop 66 claims that will it streamline the process and make it more cost effective, but the idea of fast tracking deaths in a state that has overturned “about 1 in 10” death sentences is not appealing. To put an end to cruel and unusual punishment, California voters should vote “yes” to Proposition 62 and “no” to Proposition 66.
Other states will be deciding death penalty questions as well. Referendum 426 will ask Nebraskans if they want to repeal or maintain a 2015 bill that outlawed the death penalty and Question 776 asks Oklahomans if they want their state constitution to decide capital punishment.
The current constitution of Colorado forbids slavery or involuntary servitude unless it is being used as a way to punish an individual that has been convicted of a crime. In effect, this means that the state of Colorado can force incarcerated persons to do work without their consent.
Colorado voters need to vote “yes” on Amendment T or the Colorado Removal of Exception to Slavery Prohibition for Criminals Amendment because the current language of the constitution perpetuates the idea that prisoners are slaves, which decreases the agency of incarcerated persons and allows for a mentality that produces mass incarceration and the acceptance of for-profit prisons.
States with ballot initiatives trying to legalize recreational marijuana:
- Arizona Proposition 205: A yes vote legalizes marijuana for those 21 years and older
- California Proposition 64: A yes vote legalizes marijuana for those 21 years and older
- Maine Question 1: A yes vote legalizes marijuana for those 21 years and older
- Massachusetts Question 4: A yes vote legalizes marijuana, and regulates it like alcohol
- Nevada Question 2: A yes vote legalizes marijuana if it is one ounce or less for those 21 years or older
States with ballot initiatives trying to legalize medical marijuana:
- Arkansas Issue 6: Legalizes medical marijuana if individual fulfills 17 conditions, tax revenue will go to vocational and technical training
- Arkansas Issue 7: Will no longer appear on the ballot (or if it does, the votes will not be counted) after being struck down by the Arkansas Supreme Court, supporters of Issue 7 are now encouraging voters to support Issue 6
- Florida Amendment 2: A yes vote legalizes medical marijuana
Proposition 59 in California urges California’s elected officials to propose an amendment to the Constitution that would overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The Citizens United ruling has been derided since being handed down in 2010, for opening the floodgates for unlimited political spending and affirming the controversial notion that money is speech.
Proposition 59 is only on the ballot as an advisory question, which means that members of the state’s congressional delegation will not be legally bound by the result if it passes. However, a vote in the affirmative or negative would send a strong signal to elected officials as to where the public stands on the highly contested precedent set by Citizens United. An almost identical measure is on the Washington ballot as well, where a vote “yes” on Initiative 735 encourages state elected officials to work towards a constitutional amendment to reverse the conclusions of Citizens United.
Campaign finance reform is also on the ballot in Missouri and South Dakota. First amendment groups in Missouri are working to pass Amendment 2, which would put limits on campaign contributions for those running for state and judicial offices. Proponents have high hopes that Amendment 2 will pass because a similar measure passed in 1994, but was later repealed by a Republican governor. Out of all the states proposing campaign finance reform, South Dakota may be pursuing the most significant change. Measure 22 in South Dakota would create an ethics commission and a system for publicly funding elections.