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Ballotpedia’s top 15 ballot measures to watch in 2021

A total of 39 statewide ballot measures were certified for the 2021 ballot in nine states, 24 of which will be decided by voters on Nov. 2.

Maine Question 1:

Question 1 was designed to stop the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), a 145-mile long, high-voltage transmission line project that would transmit around 1,200 megawatts from hydroelectric plants in Quebec to electric utilities in Massachusetts and Maine. Construction of NECEC began after the project received a presidential permit on Jan. 15, 2021. The ballot initiative would prohibit the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region, retroactive to September 16, 2020, thus prohibiting Segment 1 of NECEC. Segment 1 was permitted to begin construction on May 13, 2021.

Support and opposition campaigns for Question 1 raised more than $94 million combined. According to the Bangor Daily News, Question 1 is the most expensive ballot measure in Maine history, and second most expensive political election after the $200-million U.S. Senate race in 2020. Sponsors of the measure hired Revolution Field Strategies to collect signatures for the petition to qualify this measure for the ballot. A total of $2,048,794.68 was spent to collect the 63,067 valid signatures required to put this measure before voters, resulting in a total cost per required signature (CPRS) of $32.49.

Colorado Proposition 119:

Proposition 119 would create the Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Program, also known as the LEAP Program, and would increase the marijuana retail sales tax incrementally from 15% to 20% to partially fund the program.

The program would provide out-of-school services that would consist of but not be limited to the following:

  • tutoring in core subject areas,
  • instruction in English and foreign languages,
  • career and technical training,
  • emotional and physical therapy,
  • mental health services,
  • special support for students with special needs, and
  • mentoring.

Measures that can go on the ballot during odd years in Colorado are limited to topics that concern taxes or state fiscal matters arising under TABOR, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (Section 20 of Article X of the Colorado Constitution). This requirement was added to state statute in 1994. Two other initiatives were set to appear on Colorado’s 2021 ballot on November 2.

New York Proposal 2:

Proposal 2 would add a right to clean water, clean air, and a healthful environment to the New York Constitution’s Bill of Rights. As of 2021, six states had state constitutions that included environmental rights amendments: Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

Maine Question 3:

Question 3 would amend the Maine Constitution’s Declaration of Rights to declare that individuals have a “natural, inherent and unalienable right to food,” including:

  • “the right to save and exchange seeds” and
  • “the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being[.]”

Question 3 would not provide a right to harvest, produce, or acquire food in cases in which an individual commits trespassing, theft, poaching, or “other abuses of private property rights, public lands or natural resources.”

Texas Proposition 6:

Proposition 6 would amend the Texas Constitution to state that residents of nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, or state-supported living centers have a right to designate an essential caregiver that may not be prohibited from visiting the resident. It would also authorize the Texas State Legislature to pass guidelines for facilities to establish visitation policies and procedures for essential caregivers.

The amendment was introduced in response to restrictions put in place in March 2020 as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. On March 15, 2020, Texas Health and Human Services Commission ordered nursing facilities to prohibit non-essential visitors from accessing facilities. At that time, the order applied to 1,222 licensed and regulated nursing facilities serving about 90,000 residents and an additional 2,000 assisted living facilities in Texas.

New York Proposal 1:

The constitutional amendment would:

(a) change the vote thresholds for adopting redistricting plans when one political party controls both legislative chambers;

(b) require that incarcerated persons be counted at the place of their last residence for redistricting;

(c) require the state to count residents, including people who are residents but not citizens, should the federal census fail to do so;

(d) remove the block-on-border requirement for Senate districts;

(e) cap the number of state senators at 63; and

(f) move up the timeline for redistricting and repeal inoperative language.

In New York, a constitutional amendment must be approved by the legislature during two successive legislative sessions with an election for state legislators in between to go before voters. The constitutional amendment was passed in 2020 and 2021. In the Senate during the 2021 session, Democrats supported the amendment, while Republicans voted against the proposal. In the Assembly, 99 Democrats, along with one member of the Independence Party, voted to refer the amendment. Republicans, along with seven Democrats, voted against the measure.

New York Proposal 3:

The ballot measure would remove the requirement that persons must register to vote at least ten days before an election. This change would allow the New York State Legislature to pass a statute for same-day voter registration. Same-day voter registration enables voters to register and vote at the same time. Same-day registration is sometimes referred to as Election Day registration. As of 2021, New York is one of 30 states that does not provide for same-day voter registration. The other 20 states, along with D.C., allow same-day voter registration.

The constitutional amendment was passed in 2019 and 2021. In both years, the votes were largely along party lines, with Democrats supporting the same-day voter registration amendment and Republicans opposing it.

New York Proposal 4:

The ballot measure would authorize the New York State Legislature to pass a statute for no-excuse absentee voting, meaning any registered voter could request and vote with an absentee ballot. As of 2021, the New York Constitution requires voters to be absent from their home county, ill, or physically disabled to vote with an absentee ballot. As of 2021, New York is one of 16 states that require voters to provide an excuse to receive an absentee ballot. Of the remaining states, 29 provide for no-excuse absentee voting and six states use mail-in voting, meaning every registered voter receives a mail-in ballot.

The constitutional amendment was passed in 2019 and 2021. Legislative Democrats supported the constitutional amendment during both sessions. In 2019, 75.8% of legislative Republicans voted to refer the constitutional amendment. In 2021, 31.8% of legislative Republicans voted to refer the constitutional amendment.

New Jersey Public Question 1:

Public Question 1 would allow wagering on college sport competitions. Currently, the state constitution permits sports betting except on games held in N.J. and on games featuring N.J.-based college teams. Therefore, the ballot measure would expand sports betting to include all college sport competitions.

As of July 2021, sports betting was legal, or laws to legalize had been approved, in 30 states and D.C. In New Jersey, sports betting was legalized via Public Question 1 in 2011 but, due to federal law, was not implemented until after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Murphy v. NCAA. While Public Question 1 permitted sports betting in New Jersey, the constitutional amendment prohibited wagering on college games that take place in New Jersey or games that involve New Jersey-based college teams.

Local ballot measures

In 2021, Ballotpedia is covering local measures that appear on the ballot for voters within the top 100 largest cities in the U.S. and all state capitals, including those outside of the top 100 largest cities. Ballotpedia is also covering a selection of notable police-related and election-related measures outside of the top 100 largest cities. Ballotpedia is also covering all local measures in California.

Additionally, in 2021, Ballotpedia is covering a selection of local police-related measures concerning police oversight, the powers and structure of oversight commissions, police practices, law enforcement department structure and administration, law enforcement budgets, law enforcement training requirements, law enforcement staffing requirements, and body and dashboard camera footage.

Minneapolis Question 2:

Question 2 would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety (DPS). The DPS would be responsible for “a comprehensive public health approach to safety,” including the employment of licensed police officers if needed to fulfill the department’s responsibilities. A Commissioner of Public Safety would lead the DPS and be nominated by the mayor and approved by the city council. The ballot initiative would also provide for the fire police to be housed with the DPS. Question 2 would remove the minimum funding requirement for police (0.0017 per resident) from the Minneapolis Charter.

Austin Proposition A:

Proposition A would:

  • establish minimum police staffing and require there to be at least two police officers for every 1,000 residents of Austin;
  • add an additional 40 hours of police training each year on topics such as active shooter scenarios, critical thinking, and defensive tactics; and
  • provide police with additional compensation for being proficient in non-English languages, enrolling in cadet mentoring programs, and being recognized for honorable conduct.

Detroit Proposal R:

Proposal R would create a city reparations committee tasked with making recommendations for housing and economic development programs for Black Detroit residents. On June 15, 2021, the Detroit City Council unanimously passed a resolution that “establishes a reparations process to, within the next year, develop short, medium and long term recommendations to specifically address the creation of generational wealth and to boost economic mobility and opportunity in the black community.”

Detroit Proposal E:

Proposal E would decriminalize the possession and therapeutic use of entheogenic plants, including psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, and iboga, and declare that police shall treat the possession and use of entheogenic plants by adults among the lowest law enforcement priorities.

Proposal E was written with the term entheogenic plants. In 1979, five academics, including Carl A. P. Ruck and Daniel Staples of Boston University, proposed the term entheogens to describe “states of shamanic and ecstatic possession induced by mind-altering drugs.” “In a strict sense,” wrote the academics, “only those vision-producing drugs that can be shown to have figured in shamanic or religious rites would be designated entheogens, but in a looser sense, the term could also be applied to other drugs, both natural and artificial, that induce alterations of consciousness similar to those documented for ritual ingestion of traditional entheogens.” Ruck et al. described the term hallucinogen as having a biased, negative meaning: “The verb ‘hallucinate,’ however, immediately imposes a value judgment upon the nature of the altered perceptions, for it means ‘to be deceived or entertain false notions.’”

One state, Oregon, has approved a legal psilocybin program. Oregon voters also approved a measure to decriminalize drugs in 2020. At least 10 local governments, including Ann Arbor in Michigan, have passed laws that decriminalized psilocybin or changed law enforcement priorities regarding psilocybin. Two of these laws passed as ballot measures in Denver, Colorado, and Washington, D.C.

Columbus Issue 7:

  • The measure would create several funds related to energy, allocate a total of $87 million to the funds, and allow the initiative sponsors to designate recipients of certain funds to then distribute:
  • Energy Conservation and Energy Efficiency Fund – $10 million;
  • Clean Energy Education and Training Fund – $10 million;
  • Minority Business Enterprise Clean Energy Development Fund – $10 million; and
  • Columbus Clean Energy Partnership Fund – $57 million – for subsidies to electricity customers.

Denver Initiated Ordinance 303:

Initiated Ordinance 303, also referred to as the Let’s Do Better initiative, would ban camping on private property without written permission from the property owner, requiring the city to enforce unauthorized camping, and allowing the city to establish up to four authorized camping locations on public property with lighting, running water, and restroom facilities to support the homeless population of the city.

This measure was put on the ballot through a citizen initiative petition proposed by Garrett Flicker, chair of the Denver Republican Party. GOP leaders backed a homeless-related camping ban initiative in Austin earlier this year.


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