While many pollsters are predicting Tuesday will be a big night for Republicans, some of the most high-profile ballot initiatives voters will weigh in on are decidedly liberal. Among the 146 ballot proposals and initiatives voters in 41 states will consider Tuesday are nine that would legalize marijuana and raise the minimum wage.
Four red states — Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota — have measures on the ballot to lift their minimum wage above the federal level of $7.25, a key priority of President Barack Obama's that he has failed to push through Congress. In Illinois, a nonbinding ballot initiative will solicit voters’ opinions on raising the minimum wage to $10.
Earlier this year, Obama lifted the minimum wage for all federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour, hoping to build momentum for a national law. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia raised their minimum wage in the past two years, but the national rate remains at $7.25, where it’s been since 2009. Someone working 40 hours a week at that rate would make $15,080 in annual gross earnings. Many Republicans argue that raising the minimum wage would stifle growth.
The chances for these ballot propositions look good. All 10 minimum wage hike propositions that have made it on the ballot since 2000 have passed, according to the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California. This year’s minimum wage propositions seem to have appeared organically, and are not a part of a national coordinated campaign, according to the institute.
Meanwhile, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia are considering legalizing marijuana for recreational use, while Florida voters may legalize medical marijuana.
Unlike the minimum wage proposals, the pot initiatives on the ballot are supported by well-funded national advocacy groups. In 2012, Colorado and Washington legalized the sale and use of marijuana, and this year, pot advocates hope two more states will join them — Oregon and Alaska. Washington, D.C., voters will decide whether to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, but will not legalize its sale. Florida would become the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana if the ballot proposal succeeds.
These initiatives, which have largely sprung up in the libertarian West, are a bit to the left of the White House. The Obama administration says it “steadfastly opposes legalization of marijuana and other drugs because legalization would increase the availability and use of illicit drugs, and pose significant health and safety risks to all Americans, particularly young people.” But Obama has sounded much more sympathetic to the cause in interviews. He told The New Yorker that he thinks state legalization efforts should go forward because "it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished." (He was referencing data that shows black men are much more likely to be prosecuted for marijuana possession than white men.) He also told the magazine that he doesn’t believe marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol.
The federal government can still prosecute pot sellers in states that legalize it, but it has largely left Washington and Colorado alone.
Other ballot initiatives this election include a ban on baiting bears in Maine with barrels filled with doughnuts, proposals that could make abortions more legally suspect in North Dakota and Colorado, and changing the law to allow Michiganders to hunt wolves.