From abortion rights to 'magic mushrooms,' US voters to decide what goes on ballot questions

In all, at least 124 statutory and constitutional questions appear on this year's state ballots
Last Updated 30 October 2020, 04:00 IST

Voters in 32 US states and the District of Columbia will have the opportunity on Tuesday to approve or reject a wide range of ballot questions, ranging from proposals on elections, abortion rights and taxes to even one on legalising magic mushrooms.

In all, at least 124 statutory and constitutional questions appear on this year's state ballots, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

About two-thirds of them were put there by the legislatures, usually, because direct voter approval is required on tax and bond issues and on constitutional changes, the NCSL said.

In 24 states, mostly in the West, any citizen may collect signatures to put a proposed law on the ballot, although most legislatures can still override them, according to NCSL legislative policy specialist Amanda Zoch.

This year, 38 of the ballot measures were put there by citizens, a decline from 60 in 2018 and 72 in 2016 as the coronavirus pandemic dampened populist participation, the NCSL said.

The third type of ballot questions involves initiatives to overturn laws through a so-called popular referendum, or "people's veto," which 26 states allow. Four of this year's ballot measures seek to do just that.

California, which generally leads the country in ballot measures, sometimes triggering national trends, did so again this year with 12, followed by Colorado with 11.

Here are some highlights of this year's ballot measures:


In Massachusetts and Alaska, citizens have proposed that the states adopt so-called ranked-choice voting in state and federal elections. So far, only Maine uses the method, in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots, statewide. But several other states use it in some localities.

California's Proposition 18 would give voting rights in primary elections to 17-year-olds who will turn 18 by the next general election, joining 18 other states and Washington, DC. The state's Proposition 17 would restore the right to vote to parolees convicted of felonies.

Three states - Alabama, Colorado and Florida - are asking voters to change their constitutions to require that "only a citizen” instead of "every citizen" can vote, a nebulous distinction that the Florida League of Women Voters said "is cloaked in xenophobia and false patriotism."

California gig workers

California's Proposition 22 is classified as a citizen initiative, but it is backed by Uber Technologies Inc, Lyft Inc, DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates, and would exempt the companies' ride-share and delivery drivers from a state law that makes them employees, not contractors.

With $190 million, mostly from the companies, having been sunk into the "YES 22" campaign, the proposal is the year's most expensive ballot measure and the first gig-economy question to go before statewide voters, Ballotpedia said.

By making the drivers contractors instead of employees, the measure would strip them of a host of legal rights, such as unemployment insurance. But it would provide minimum pay rates, healthcare subsidies and some accidental insurance coverage.

Psilocybin, aka Magic Mushrooms

For the first time, a state would allow the use of psilocybin, a hallucinogen also known in its raw form as magic mushrooms, for therapeutic use for adults at least 21 years old if Oregon voters approve the Psilocybin Services Act.

Citing some research showing benefits of the drug as a treatment for anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions, the 71-page proposal lays out a two-year schedule to further consider the matter and set up a regulatory structure before psilocybin licenses could be issued.

Opponents, including the Oregonian newspaper, say the proposal "seeks to jump ahead of the science too quickly."

In a related citizen measure in Washington, DC, voters will consider Initiative 81, which would direct police to rank "entheogenic plants and fungi," including psilocybin and mescaline, among its lowest enforcement priorities.


Although the measures are no longer trend-setting, voters in five states will consider proposals for legalising marijuana for both recreational and medical uses for adults.

Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota ballots will ask voters to approve the drug's recreational use, in some cases amending their constitutions to do so. South Dakota also has a referendum on medical marijuana, while Mississippi has competing ballot questions on it, one from citizens and one from the legislature.

Since 1996, 33 states and the District of Columbia have allowed medical marijuana, 11 have approved its recreational use and 16, including some medical marijuana states, have decriminalized simple possession, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.


The country's dispute over abortion rights is spilling from the courts and statehouses into the voting booths this year, as it does almost every election cycle.

Colorado Proposition 115 would ban abortions, except those needed to save the life of the mother, after 22 weeks of pregnancy. While 43 states already restrict abortions at some point during pregnancy, 15 of the restrictions have been blocked by court orders, according to Ballotpedia.

In Louisiana, the legislature is asking voters to approve an amendment that would make clear that the state constitution does not protect abortion rights or funding for abortions. The amendment would clear the way for the state to outlaw abortion if the US Supreme Court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that protects abortion rights under the US Constitution.


The once-endangered grey wolf is on the Colorado ballot, where supporters are asking voters to create a commission that would reintroduce the animals and manage them in the western part of the state that was once their home.

Supporters of Proposition 114 say bringing the wolves back over the next three years after they were killed off more than 80 years ago would restore a needed balance to Colorado's environment with widespread benefits. Grey wolves have been reintroduced in Montana, Idaho and Yellowstone National Park.

Opponents argue that the predators are already making their way in from neighbouring states and are a threat to ranchers, hunters and endangered species. Letting voters, rather than wildlife management experts, decide the issue, they say, is “ballot-box biology."

The decision would be made days after the Trump administration said it would remove the wolves from a list of federally protected species, allowing them to be hunted in the lower 48 states where their numbers have risen to about 6,000 from 1,000 in the 1970s.

(Published 30 October 2020, 03:56 IST)

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