In Montana, a ballot measure seeks to declare that an embryo or fetus is a legal person with a right to medical care. It would impose a felony criminal penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $50,000 fine on any health care worker who does not intervene in the event of an unsuccessful abortion resulting in a live birth.
After voters weigh in on ballot measures, abortion is certain to be a top-tier issue for state legislatures returning early next year — and a regular flashpoint between voters, lawmakers, the courts and activists for years to come.
Elections and government
Top five: Voting for just one party or candidate is increasingly going out of style. New York City, Alaska and Maine — among dozens of others cities across the US — have established ranked choice voting in the past two decades, letting voters list their top picks for a single office.
Nevadans hoping to follow Alaska and Maine’s example will have the opportunity to vote on a ranked-choice system and establish open primaries. Voters could cast a primary ballot without party affiliation and rank five candidates during general elections.
A ballot measure in Nevada this fall would open up the closed party primaries to the one-third of voters in the state who do not identify as Republicans or Democrats. While the measure polled well with voters in August, prominent Democrats, including Gov. Steve Sisolak and Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), have voiced strong opposition.
Citizens only: Ohioians are being asked to weigh in on the Citizenship Voting Requirement Amendment, which seeks to bar municipal governments from allowing noncitizens to participate in local elections. New York City is the only major city to pass a law letting noncitizens vote — although a judge has put it on hold — along with about a dozen towns across the country. But after the Ohio village of Yellow Springs passed a measure in 2019 attempting to join them, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Republican legislators moved to intercept. Five other states already include language in their constitutions to explicitly ban non-citizens from voting.
Misc.: North Dakotans will vote on creating term limits for governor and state legislators, while Oregonians could decide to excuse their lawmakers for “unexplained absenteeism.” The latter measure aims to stop Republicans from using walkouts or mass absences to block legislation, reports the Oregon Capital Chronicle — something GOP lawmakers did in 2019, 2020 and 2021 to stall votes on legislation related to guns and climate change, and to protest Covid-19 restrictions.
Tennesseans will decide whether to lift a ban on letting religious ministers run for state office, while Wyoming voters may raise the retirement age for judges from 70 to 75.
The 13th Amendment prohibits slavery, with one notable clause: “except as a punishment for crime.” Nineteen states still have some version of that language in their constitution — and five are looking to cut it this year. The protests against police brutality that broke out across the country after the killing of George Floyd in 2020 created an opening to push several states to revisit vestiges of slavery and discrimination legislators had rarely been moved to address. Now, Alabama, Louisiana, Vermont, Oregon and Tennessee are positioned to remove language that allows slavery or indentured servitude as legal punishments.
Some activists hope that renewed conversation about such exceptions will extend to requiring people in prison and correctional facilities to be paid for their labor — a discussion that came about in other states that did away with the clause like Colorado in 2018 and Nebraska in 2020.
Labor and wages
Pay raises: Congress has not increased the federal minimum wage since 2009, but every election cycle sees a handful of states raise their own floor. This year, Nebraskans will consider establishing their first: a $15 per hour minimum by 2026. And Nevadans are looking at boosting theirs from $10.50 per hour to $12 by 2024.
Washington, DC, saw its minimum wage for non-tipped employees increase to $16.10 per hour in July, when a 2016 ballot initiative took effect. While that measure also boosted wages to $5.35 per hour for jobs centered on tips, voters are now being asked whether both should be $16.10.