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Voters To Weigh In On Variety Of Ballot Measures On Election Day


Gun control isn't the only issue on state ballots this year. Voters will weigh in on everything from legalizing marijuana to requiring porn actors to wear condoms. There are more than 150 statewide ballot measures this year. Caroline Cournoyer is senior web editor at Governing magazine and joins us now to run through this year's ballot measures. Hi there.


SHAPIRO: It seems like marijuana is one of the most common issues on the ballot this year. How many states are voting on whether to legalize pot?

COURNOYER: Well, five states will be voting on legalizing recreational marijuana, and four will be voting on medical marijuana.

SHAPIRO: Why are we seeing so many this year in particular?

COURNOYER: In 2012, Colorado and Washington state became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. And they did this through the ballot, and in 2014, two states plus Washington, D.C., did the same, and now we're just seeing a ripple effect.

SHAPIRO: So just a growing national trend.

COURNOYER: Exactly. And it's not something that's going to be done through the legislature. It's extremely difficult for a lawmaker to support that. It's a very controversial issue, so it's easier to pass it on to the voters.

SHAPIRO: So guns, marijuana - what else is big this year?

COURNOYER: Minimum wage is definitely a trend that you'll be seeing in about a handful of states. In addition to that, there's repealing the death penalty and limiting the role that money plays in politics.

SHAPIRO: There are 71 citizen initiatives on ballots this year - these are measures that require a certain number of voter signatures to get on the ballot - twice as many as last time. What's behind this huge increase?

COURNOYER: Well, there's three big reasons for that. The first is that it's a lot easier to get a measure on the ballot this year. In order to do that, citizens need a certain number of signatures. And the number of signatures that they need is based on how many people voted in the last election.

So in 2014, we had the lowest voter turnout that we've had since World War II. While that sounds bad, there is a silver lining in that it's easier to get citizen-led ballot measures on the ballot.

SHAPIRO: Because as a percentage of the voting populace, you need a much lower absolute number since so few people voted two years ago.


SHAPIRO: So low voter turnout in 2014 - what else?

COURNOYER: Yeah, so the second reason is the fact that in 2010, the Republicans swept the states. They now hold an almost historically high majority of governorships and control of state legislatures. As a result, ever since 2010, Democrats have really struggled to gain any traction on their issues. So progressive groups and Democratic lawmakers and the citizens themselves are now turning to the ballot to take matters into their own hands.

SHAPIRO: And what's the third reason?

COURNOYER: I don't think you can discount the role that social media plays and how it's so much easier these days to mobilize voters than it was in the past.

SHAPIRO: We've seen political parties use ballot measures to try to get people to the polls in the past. For example, in 2004, there were a lot of anti-gay marriage measures on the ballot to mobilize Republican voters. Is there anything like that that either party is doing this year?

COURNOYER: Certainly. A large majority of the measures on the ballot this year are progressive, liberal issues. And a presidential election year is - generally favors Democrats anyways. But particularly this year, they're using these measures to get out the vote and to get the younger population, the working population and people who might not otherwise vote.

SHAPIRO: Should somebody who lives in one state care if there are a lot of ballot measures about - I don't know - guns or marijuana or anything else in a different state?

COURNOYER: They should care because marijuana is a really good example of a policy that started in a state and is spreading to other states. So just because you're not voting on, say, gun control today, you might be in two years or in four years.

SHAPIRO: What are a couple of wildcard ballot measures that make you raise an eyebrow?

COURNOYER: Well, you already mentioned it. There's one in California on whether or not porn actors should have to wear condoms. That's certainly a wild card, and that is not a measure that you will likely see anywhere else on the ballot in future years to come.

SHAPIRO: Not a widespread industry in, say, Kentucky or North Dakota.

COURNOYER: No, it is not (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Caroline Cournoyer is Governing magazine's senior web editor. Thanks for joining us.

COURNOYER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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