What's on the Ballot? California and Beyond

By Devin Hartzell | Published 10/27/2020
What's on the Ballot? California and Beyond
Early voters wait in line in Atlanta | Photo Credit: John Spink/jspink@ajc.com

The election taking place next Tuesday will be one of the most momentous in recent memory, as voters across the country decide whether to give President Trump another term in office, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, high unemployment, a racial reckoning, the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, and ongoing economic uncertainty. However, the Presidential election (and high-profile federal elections) aren’t the only things on the ballot next Tuesday.

The topline contests on the ballot next Tuesday are set to draw large numbers of people to the polls. Early voting across the country has already set records, as Florida, Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina (among the Presidential swing states) have already surpassed 60% of their total turnout in 2016, according to the U.S. Elections Project and Professor Michael McDonald of the University of Florida. However, it’s not possible to say whether these early voting numbers benefit Democrats or Republicans, as polling shows voter enthusiasm is at an all-time high for both parties.

In California, voters get to vote on 12 different referenda, ranging from the mundane (bonds for state stem cell research) to the impactful (reclassifying millions of gig workers as employees, not independent contractors). Some of these campaigns have drawn tens of millions of dollars in backing from corporate and labor interests, with some companies such as Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash spending to ensure their own survival.

California’s Proposition 15 would repeal parts of the notorious 1978 Proposition 13, which capped property tax rates at 1% of the property’s purchase price. Passing this year’s initiative would tax commercial and industrial property at its market value beginning in fiscal year 2022-2023, with further possible delays for small businesses. The law is expected to bring in between $6.5 billion and $13 billion to local governments, many of which are facing a budgetary crisis.

Proposition 22 would classify app-based drivers as independent contractors, relieving their companies from certain labor and wage restrictions. According to a New York Times analysis, app-based services such as Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash are worth a combined $70.5 billion, but none are profitable. Despite losing $1.8 billion in its most recent quarter, compliance with state labor regulations is said to cost Uber an additional $500 million per year. This proposition is largely a response to Assembly Bill 5, which prevented wide swaths of gig workers from being classified as independent contractors beginning this year.

Other notable referenda in California include Proposition 16, which would repeal a referendum passed in 1996 which prevents the state from practicing affirmative action; Proposition 21, which would allow local governments to enact rent control on housing built as long as 15 years ago (as opposed to housing built after 1995); Proposition 25, which would replace cash bail with a risk assessment; and Proposition 18, which would allow 17-year-olds who turn 18 by the next election to vote in primaries.

Pasadena is also set to decide whether to give Mayor Terry Tornek another term in office, or to elect Victor Gordo, the city’s longest-serving councilman. Gordo has criticized Tornek’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and urban planning, as well as his decision to withdraw from the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments in favor of a smaller organization with La Cañada Flintridge, Glendale, and Burbank. Tornek defends his efforts to reform the Pasadena Police Department in the wake of the shooting of Anthony McClain over the summer.

In Los Angeles County, Jackie Lacey is running for reelection for District Attorney against George Gascón, who previously held the same job in San Francisco. While Lacey is the first woman and first black L.A. District Attorney, she has been criticized for her reluctance to prosecute police officers for fatal shootings, according to an Associated Press report. Mayor Eric Garcetti recently changed his endorsement in the race from Lacey to Gascón. Lacey is supported by law enforcement organizations, while Gascón, a former police officer, has been endorsed by Patrisse Cullors, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter, among others.

However, voters residing in Los Angeles county will also get a chance to fund “alternatives to incarceration” in Measure J, which would dedicate 10% of the county’s general fund to be appropriated to efforts including youth development programs, job training, investment in minority-owned businesses, rent assistance, health services, and counseling.

Of course, interesting initiatives are not limited to California this November. The city of Portland, Maine is asking its residents if they want to solidify a ban on use of facial recognition technology by the city’s police department, and Massachusetts voters will decide whether to adopt Ranked Choice Voting and a Right to Repair, which guarantees consumers the ability to repair their own electronic devices.

Alaska voters are also considering Ranked Choice Voting, as well as voters in several municipalities in California, Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota. Mississippi voters are considering switching away from an electoral system which lets the state house decide the winner if there is no majority, and Florida voters are considering a top-two primary system like California’s.

The cities of Oakland and San Francisco are considering whether 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote in city elections, while the City of Honolulu is asking its voters to establish a “youth commission” to advise its officials on issues important to them, in order to strengthen political engagement.

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