- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2014

DENVER — This may come as a surprise if you live in a state with the minimum wage, marijuana, genetically modified food labeling or election-rules measures on the ballot, but 2014 is actually a down year for state-ballot initiatives.

There are 147 initiatives on Tuesday’s state ballots, or 41 fewer than in the 2012 cycle. That decline represents a recent political trend, said Wendy Underhill, who tracks ballot measures for the National Conference of State Legislatures.


“Either there’s fatigue associated with signing petitions, or fatigue with getting to the bottom of the ballot,” Ms. Underhill said.

As for this year’s measures, she said what stands out is the larger number of minimum-wage initiatives. Voters in five states — Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota — are considering whether to raise the minimum wage on their own, instead of waiting for the federal government to do so.

“Usually the federal government sets [increases in] the minimum wage, but they don’t seem to be doing that, so the states are taking over,” Ms. Underhill said.

There may be political considerations at play: Four of the five initiatives are on the ballot in red states, where Republican state legislatures may be unlikely to approve such measures. A minimum-wage proposal is also seen as an effective way to boost Democratic turnout in an otherwise pro-Republican year.

Labor unions are pushing for the increases, while pro-business advocates argue that such measures will wind up costing jobs, reducing hours and hastening automation.

None of the proposed state initiatives would reach the $10.10 per hour rate proposed by President Obama. The closest is Illinois’s non-binding measure, which calls for a raise from $8.24 to $10 per hour, but the rest of the proposals fall in the $7.50 to $9.75 per hour range.

Those proposals are downright frugal next to ballot measures in San Francisco, which would up the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2018, or Oakland, which calls for an increase to $12.25 per hour.

Alaska and Oregon voters will also decide whether to join Colorado and Washington by legalizing retail marijuana for adults 21 and over. Those in the District of Columbia are considering a proposal to allow adults to possess and give away recreational marijuana, but not sell it. Finally, Florida and Guam have ballot measures that would legalize medical marijuana.

Despite those proposals, 2014 isn’t as big a year for marijuana as 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first states to allow recreational marijuana for adults.

“Marijuana is big this year, but it’s been bigger in the past,” Ms. Underhill said.

The fight over genetically modified food labeling, or GMOs, moved to Colorado and Oregon this year after recent close defeats in California and Washington. Labeling advocates are still trying to pull out a statewide win at the ballot, and Oregon may be their best chance this year.

Proponents and opponents of Measure 92, the GMO measure, have spent more than $15 million combined on the campaign. Supporters say it provides consumers with needed information, while foes say it will increase costs on food and make Oregon farmers uncompetitive with those in the rest of the nation.

The most lopsided spending may be found in the fight over Colorado’s latest personhood measure, Amendment 67. Two previous personhood initiatives lost overwhelmingly, yet pro-choice groups have raised a whopping $2.6 million to defeat the measure with a potent advertising, high-profile rallies and an aggressive ground campaign.

Meanwhile, the pro-67 campaign, called A Voice for Brady, has collected about $21,000, nearly all of that in non-monetary contributions. Aside from a Facebook page and the occasional print ad, the campaign is barely visible.

In Washington, two gun-related measures have the potential to cancel each other out. Initiative 591 would ban background checks other than those required under federal law, while Initiative 594 would mandate universal background checks.

What happens if both win? Voters in Washington can expect a legal battle that could wind up being resolved by the state legislature.

Election issues also figure prominently in Tuesday’s balloting. Oregon voters will also consider whether to move to a “top two” primary system that pits the winners against each other regardless of party, which is already the case in California and Washington. Meanwhile, Missouri and Connecticut are considering measures to allow expanded early voting.

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