Here’s What’s On The Ballot In Your State

NOTE:  Anything that appears on a ballot other than a candidate running for office is called a ballot measure – ballot measures are questions or issues that appear on ballots where voters can approve or reject them. Ballot measures are broken down into two distinct categories – initiatives (or propositions) and referendums. (see “Background” below the questions for more info)

(by Meg Anderson, NPR) – It’s time to talk about ballot measures. Or rather, those other things voters are deciding on Nov. 8.

This November, there are 156 measures being voted on in 35 states and the District of Columbia. California is in the lead, with…17 measures on its ballot.

Although these ballot measures are voted on state by state, there are some big national themes.

With nine states voting on it, the…ballot measure topic [with the most states voting on it] this year is marijuana. Some states are asking voters whether to legalize it for recreational use, others for medicinal use. Another sign of the times: at least seven states are voting on changing their elections in some way, be it limiting campaign contributions or changing how citizens vote.

Other prominent themes across the country are education, guns, tobacco, minimum wage and the death penalty.


Medical: Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota

Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota are all voting to permit marijuana to be used as a medical treatment with a doctor’s prescription, although each state varies a bit in what medical conditions can count.

Recreational: Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada

These five states are all voting on regulating marijuana more like alcohol. If passed, marijuana would be legal to possess and use in small amounts for those over age 21 and its sale would be taxed.


Party Affiliation: Colorado and South Dakota

Colorado is voting to let people who aren’t affiliated with a party vote in the state’s primary. South Dakota is also voting to get rid of closed primaries and in addition, is asking voters to to do away with party labels on ballots although that wouldn’t apply to the presidential and vice presidential races.

Voting: Alaska, Missouri and Maine

Alaska has a measure that would let residents register to vote when they apply for their permanent fund dividend, which is the money the Alaskan government gives people who live there for a full year.

Missouri, on the other hand, is voting to make voting a little bit harder by requiring a voter to display a photo ID at the polls.

Maine is deciding whether or not to allow ranked-choice voting for U.S. senators, U.S. representatives, the governor, state senators and state representatives.

Campaign Contributions: California, Washington, Missouri and South Dakota

Missouri and South Dakota both have measures that would limit campaign contributions. South Dakota’s would also create a system to publicly finance state elections. And Washington has a measure that would create a publicly financed system as well.

California and Washington have measures that would urge state elected officials to push for free speech to apply to individuals and not corporations. Both are in response to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court case that said that, based on freedom of speech, the government cannot restrict political expenditures by corporations and independent political committees.


Establishing An Education Fund: California, Maine, Oklahoma and Oregon

One measure on the California ballot would authorize $9 billion to go toward various school projects at both the K-12 and college levels.

Maine is voting to increase taxes (on income over $200,000) to create an education fund. Oklahoma plans to do it with [an increased] sales tax.

Oregon is voting on creating two separate education funds: one would be used to give fifth or sixth graders a week-long outdoor school program and the other would be used for dropout prevention.

Bilingual Education: California

Right now, there’s a 1998 law in place in California that bans school instruction in languages other than English. If the ballot measure is approved, the existing law would be repealed and open the way for bilingual education.

Charter Schools: Massachusetts

A measure in Massachusetts would allow the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve up to 12 new charter schools or charter school expansions each year.

Failing Schools: Georgia

Georgia is voting to form an “Opportunity School District” that would allow the state to take over failing schools.


The Right to Hunt And Fish: Indiana and Kansas

Although neither measure explicitly mention guns, both states are proposing amendments that protect hunting and fishing as a constitutional right.

Background checks: Maine, California and Nevada

The measures proposed in these three states would require a background check before someone buys a gun.

California’s measure requires a background check to buy ammunition and also bans large-capacity ammunition magazines. California is also proposing to prevent people who have stolen guns in the past from possessing guns again.

Protection Order: Washington

This measure would allow people to get a court order that would temporarily ban people who show signs of mental illness or violence or another behavior that might indicate that they could harm themselves or others from possessing firearms.


Increased Taxes: California, Colorado, Missouri, and North Dakota

Four states are voting to increase taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products. The amounts range from an increase of 23 cents per pack of cigarettes to an increase of two dollars per pack.

These states are also outlining where that extra revenue would go. California and Colorado would put the money toward healthcare, tobacco prevention programs and research. Missouri plans to spend the money on transportation infrastructure projects and early childhood education while North Dakota would spend the proceeds on the state veterans’ home and the state hospital.


Gradual increase: Arizona, Maine, Colorado and Washington

Though their end goals differ, these four states are voting to increase the minimum wage little by little until 2020, though Maine is extending that to 2024 for workers who receive tips. Arizona, Maine and Colorado would increase the wage to $12 an hour — right now the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Washington is proposing an increase to $13.50 an hour. Both Arizona and Washington’s measures would also require paid sick leave for most workers.

Decrease: South Dakota

South Dakota is voting to lower the state’s minimum wage to $7.50 an hour for workers under age 18. (Explained at ballotpedia)


Repeal: California

California is voting to get rid of the death penalty and replace it with life in prison. It would apply retroactively to prisoners already sentenced to death.

Reinstate: Nebraska

Moving in the opposite direction of California, Nebraska is voting to reinstate the death penalty by repealing a bill passed in 2015 that banned it.

Adjust: California and Oklahoma

California actually has two death penalty measures on the ballot: one to repeal and one to revise it. The measure that would revise the death penalty rules would make changes designed to speed up the appeals and petitions process.

Oklahoma’s revision deals with the method of execution. The amendment on the ballot, if passed, would change language in the state’s constitution so that if a court decides that the execution itself is “cruel or unusual punishment,” the death sentence would stay in place and a new method of death would be found.


Doctor Assisted Suicide: Colorado

Colorado is voting on whether or not to allow adults diagnosed with terminal illnesses and facing imminent death to end their life with prescription medication. The measure has a lot of stipulations along with it, such as requiring two other doctors — in addition to the one who wrote the prescription — to confirm the prognosis of death and also confirm that the patient is making a voluntary and informed decision.

Statehood: District Of Columbia

This one asks Washington, D.C. residents whether the D.C. Council should petition Congress to create a new state out of the nation’s capital. It would split the district into a residential state with a small federal district in the middle of it for government buildings and monuments.

Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from NPR. 


NOTE TO STUDENTS: Read the “Background” below before answering the questions.

1. Define ballot measure.

2. a) Name the two types of citizen ballot measures.
b) What is the difference between the two?

3. What is a legislative measure? Be specific.

4. In how many states can citizens petition to add initiatives and/or referendums to the ballot?

5. a) Give the total number of ballot measures which will be voted on across the country in the 2016 election.
b) How many states will have ballot measures on their ballots?

6. a) List at least 5 of the key ballot measure topics for this election (use a word or phrase to describe each topic).
b) Which issue will be on the ballot in the most states in this year’s election?
c) Which one of the ballot measures described in this article do you think would be the most beneficial to the state if passed? Explain your answer.

7. a) Does your state practice direct democracy through the citizen ballot measure process? (if not, choose a neighboring state to answer the following):
b) What initiatives or referendums are on your state’s ballot in the upcoming election?
c) How would you cast your vote on any of the measures? (Choose one) Explain your answer.
d) Are there any legislative measures on your state’s ballot this year? If so, how would you cast your vote? Explain your answer.


a) South Dakota passed a law reducing the minimum wage for teens from $8.50 to $7.50. Media outlets across the country hype the importance of increasing the minimum wage. How do you think a decrease in South Dakota’s minimum wage for teens would benefit them? (If you are not sure, ask a parent or grandparent.)

b) In recent years, four states and Washington, D.C. have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. (Twenty-five states and D.C. have legalized the medical use of marijuana).
In August, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced it will keep marijuana illegal for any purpose. This means that the sale or use of marijuana for any reason remains illegal on the federal level.
But if more states legalize its use, it will make it harder to enforce that ban, experts say. For instance, if California, with its 40 million residents, passes Proposition 64, it could have national implications.
A recent poll showed 60% of Americans approve legalizing marijuana. Most news outlets publish stories favorable to its legalization.
List several reasons legalizing marijuana for recreational use would harm our society and our country.



Anything that appears on a ballot other than a candidate running for office is called a ballot measure.

Ballot measures placed on the ballot by STATE LAWMAKERS are called legislative referrals or legislative referendums, in which the legislature puts proposed legislation up for popular vote (either voluntarily or, in the case of a constitutional amendment as a required procedure).

Ballot measures placed on the ballot by CITIZENS are broken down into two distinct categories – initiatives (or propositions) and referendums.

Twenty-six states, as well as Washington, D.C., offer initiative and/or referendum rights for their citizens.

  • Initiative – Citizens, collecting signatures on a petition, place advisory questions, memorials, statutes (laws) or constitutional amendments on the ballot for the citizens to adopt or reject. “Initiative” refers to newly drafted legislation submitted directly to a popular vote as an alternative to adoption by a state legislature. Twenty-four states have the initiative process.
  • Referendum – In many of the same states the citizens have the referendum process – the ability to reject laws or amendments proposed or already passed by the state legislature.

The terms above are all forms of “direct democracy” practiced by various states. In a direct democracy, all citizens, without the intermediary of elected or appointed officials, can participate in making public decisions. Ballot measures are a form of direct democracy practiced by many states in the U.S.

Find a list of 2016 ballot measures by state at (Click on the name of the ballot measures in your state for a full explanation and background on the measure.) This website explains more about each ballot measure than the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) website – but for a list through NCSL, go to:

NOTE:  In addition to the citizen initiated ballot measures explained above, the state legislature can place a proposal on the ballot.  It is called a legislative measure or legislative proposition (or sometimes “referred” measure). All states permit legislative measures and all states except for Delaware require constitutional amendments to be approved by the voters at large. In some states, legislatures place non-binding advisory measures on the ballot. Legislative measures are much more common than initiatives and referendums, and are about twice as likely to be approved. Some states, such as Florida, also allow certain commissions to refer measures to the ballot.


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