That most American of institutions — the referendum — has been growing in recent election cycles as voters realize how much direct power they can wield on certain issues. Pioneered by California’s reformist Governor Hiram Johnson, the ballot initiative has become popular with both the left and right as a means to short-circuit entrenched interests.
Some states make putting an issue on the ballot a simple matter of getting enough signatures. Other states find ways to put roadblocks in the way of citizens looking to change the system or the law. But without a doubt, ground zero for referenda continues to be California. The state has led the way in everything from recognizing same-sex marriages to property tax cuts legalizing marijuana.
On the ballot in California this year was a radical proposal pushed by the unions that would have forced companies in the gig economy like Uber and Lyft to treat their independent contractor employees like hourly workers. The law would have made independent contractors of all kinds — including writers — subject to the same rules companies must follow when hiring hourly and salaried employees.
California may be a “progressive” outpost but the law appeared to go too far even for them.
Voters in California sided with companies such as Uber and Lyft to prevent the state from enacting a local labor law that would have forced companies to provide basic benefits — such as health insurance, minimum wage, overtime and reimbursement for expenses — to independent contractors.
Fifty-eight percent of voters rejected Proposition 22.
Uber, Lyft and other app-based ride-hailing and delivery services spent $200 million to combat the measure, The Associated Press reported.
In Illinois, a graduated income tax heavily promoted by Governor J.B. Pritzker went down to defeat. The tax would have massively increased taxes on businesses and, eventually, the middle class. Democrats tried to blame the fiscal mess the state is in on “Republicans and their billionaire allies” when Republicans have been largely out of power in the legislature for the last decade.
“When all the votes are counted, we believe there will be more ‘no’ votes than ‘yes’ votes, and that will be a win for small business owners, middle-class families, family farmers, retirees, and large employers,” Lissa Druss, spokeswoman for the Coalition to Stop the Proposed Tax Hike Amendment, said in a statement. “In this election, Illinois voters sent a resounding message that with an $8 billion deficit and two massive tax hikes in the last ten years, we cannot trust Springfield Politicians with another tax hike.”
Elsewhere, Mississippi gave in to a nationwide pressure campaign to change its flag and remove the stars and bars from its design. And Louisiana voters turned down an opportunity to ban abortion after 22 weeks.
There was a slew of other referenda on the ballot in California. A few of the notable ones.
- Repealing the state’s diversity law was defeated 56-44
- Allowing former felons to vote was approved by 59 percent
- Allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primaries was being rejected by 55 percent.
- Stricter parole and sentencing was rejected but so was replacing cash bail
Legalizing recreational use of marijuana had a good day.
A majority of New Jersey and Arizona residents voted yes on ballot measures to make recreational marijuana legal. Voters in South Dakota approved marijuana for medical use.
Mississippi voters approved an initiative to establish a medical marijuana program for patients with debilitating conditions.
Voters in Montana voted for two initiatives to legalize, regulate and tax recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older.
This is democracy in action. The people in all their wisdom — and all their foolhardiness — have only themselves to blame for the results.