Abortion rights, gun control, and minimum wage hikes were the clear election winners among state ballot measures approved on Nov. 8.
Voters meanwhile rendered a split verdict on cannabis legalization, and, in four states, repealed constitutional provisions permitting slavery or involuntary servitude as criminal punishment. In California, they decisively defeated two measures that would have legalized sports betting.
The elections determined the fate of 132 constitutional amendments or legislative proposals in 37 states. Here's a rundown of the key results.
Abortion Rights Affirmed
Voters in California, Michigan, and Vermont approved amendments to state constitutions guaranteeing reproductive rights including the right to an abortion in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling enabling states to outlaw the procedure. The vote was closest in Michigan, where abortion rights proponents prevailed by 56% to 44%. That result invalidated a dormant 1931 law banning abortion in the state and upheld subsequent legislation that legalized it.
Meanwhile, Kentucky voters rejected a constitutional amendment by 53% to 47% specifying that the state constitution does not provide a right to an abortion or to public funding for abortions. Three months ago, Kansas defeated a similar measure. Abortion is banned in Kentucky unless a pregnant woman's life is at risk under a 2019 law that came into force following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The Nov. 8 vote preserved a legal challenge to that law, and Kentucky voters defeated a bid by one of the law's authors for the state Supreme Court for good measure. In Montana, where abortion is protected by the state constitution, voters rejected a measure requiring medical care to preserve the life of infants born after attempted abortions by 53% to 47%.
Gun Control in Oregon
Oregon voters enacted tough gun control legislation by a razor-thin margin, with 50.7% backing a law that will require firearm buyers to obtain permits from local law enforcement after undergoing safety training and a criminal background check. The measure also bans ammunition magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds.
“We know that throughout U.S. history change rarely comes from the federal government. Most often it comes from states and local governments, and this is an example of everyday people using their state government and working together to create a safer community to stop this violence before it touches them, too,” said David Hogg, a gun control activist and survivor of a 2018 mass shooting at a Florida high school, during the campaign.
Oregon joins 14 other states and the District of Columbia in requiring permits or safety training to buy or own at least some class of firearms.
Weed in Missouri, Maryland; Shrooms for Colorado
Missouri and Maryland legalized cannabis for recreational use on Nov. 8, joining 19 other U.S. states and the District of Columbia, even as voters in Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota rejected similar measures. Retail sales in Missouri could start as early as February after voters amended the state constitution, legalizing cannabis by 53% to 47%, with heavy support in St. Louis and the surrounding area.
Among the three states to reject weed for adults, South Dakota came closest to approval with 47% in favor, followed by North Dakota with 45% and Arkansas with 44%. While those votes slowed the rapid spread of legal cannabis from the coasts to the heartland, legalization in Missouri is an important milestone given the state's Republican leanings. It gives seven neighboring states that continue to ban adult-use cannabis the choice of following suit or losing tax revenue as residents shop across the border. Missouri and Maryland each have a population of about 6.2 million, more than Arkansas and both Dakotas put together.
In Colorado, among the first two states to legalize recreational cannabis a decade ago, voters approved a measure decriminalizing the possession of psychedelic plants and mushrooms as "natural medicine" and allowing licensed "healing centers" to administer them by 51% to 49%. The new law covers dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine, some types of mescaline, psilocybin, and psilocin.
Taxes, Wages, and Unions
Colorado overwhelmingly approved a cut in the state's income tax rate to 4.4% from 4.55% after cutting it from 4.63% in 2020. In Massachusetts, voters enacted a 4% surcharge on annual income above $1 million on top of the state's 5% state income tax rate, by 52% to 48%.
In contrast, California voters rejected an initiative that would have imposed a 1.75% surcharge on annual income above $2 million to fund electric vehicle subsidies and infrastructure, as well as wildfire prevention, with 57% opposed.
Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom broke with the state's Democratic Party in opposing the measure, calling it "a cynical scheme devised by a single corporation to funnel state income tax revenue to their company." Rides provider Lyft (LYFT) spent $45.1 million in support of the tax increase. By 2030, electric vehicles must account for 90% of the miles driven by Lyft and Uber (UBER) drivers in California under a mandate approved in 2021 by the California Air Resources Board.
Nebraska and Nevada approved minimum wage hikes. Nebraska's hourly minimum will rise in increments to $15 from the current $9 by the start of 2026, and will be indexed for regional inflation thereafter. Nevada's minimum hourly wage will rise to $12 from $10.50 (or $9.50 for workers with health benefits) by mid-2024, and will also be indexed for inflation. District of Columbia voters approved an initiative gradually raising the $5.35 hourly minimum wage for tipped workers until it matches that of workers who don't get tips in 2027. The current minimum hourly wage for workers who don't get tips is $16.10 in the nation's capital.
Illinois and Tennessee split over right-to-work laws, which allow workers to share the benefits of collective bargaining without joining a union or paying union dues. Illinois voters, by 59% to 41%, approved a constitutional amendment providing collective bargaining rights and prohibiting right-to-work laws. Tennessee voters gave right-work laws constitutional protection by 70% to 30%.
One hundred fifty-seven years after the Civil War, voters in Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont removed language allowing slavery or involuntary servitude as criminal punishment that echoed the exception in the 13th amendment to the U.S. constitution..
That's not expected to have an immediate effect on some 800,000 state and federal prisoners performing minimally compensated work, often involuntarily. But the changes, backed by prisoner rights activists, lay the groundwork for legal challenges of the current system and practices.
Louisiana voters rejected an amendment that replaced the slavery and servitude exceptions with language permitting forced labor for some prison sentences. The amendment had been disavowed as flawed by the lawmaker who wrote it.
Medicaid Expansion and Right to Health Care
South Dakota voters approved a Medicaid expansion under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), long blocked by the state's Republican lawmakers, by 56% to 44%.
In Oregon, a constitutional amendment that would guarantee affordable health care remained too close to call with 49.9% support, trailing by 2,574 votes with 1.4 million counted as of the afternoon of Nov. 9. The ballot initiative sponsored by Democratic lawmakers did not specify how the state would meet that obligation.
Michigan and Connecticut voters made it easier to vote, with Connecticut authorizing the Legislature to allow early voting for the first time, while Michigan created a nine-day early voting period and required the state to set up absentee drop boxes and a system for tracking the absentee ballots.
Nebraska voted to require voters to provide photo identification, while Arizona rejected a proposal to require voter identification number and date of birth on mail-in ballots and to eliminate a two-document alternative to a photo ID at the polls.
Arkansas voters rejected a proposal to require a supermajority of 60% for ballot initiatives, while Arizona enacted the 60% approval threshold for ballot initiatives imposing taxes.