Election Day is six weeks away. While the showdown between Trump and Biden is sucking the oxygen out of the room, millions of voters have additional decisions to make on Nov. 3. With the stroke of a pen, hole punch or simple touch, Americans will decide the fate of over 100 ballot measures — which will play a key role in shaping the law in their state.
Unlike casting a ballot for a specific candidate — which indirectly influences laws — ballot measures provide voters with the opportunity to shape public policy. Twenty-six states, plus the District of Columbia, have a form of direct democracy. (It’s important to not discount the influence wielded by state officials and courts on the final language that appears on the ballots.)
Much of the ballot action occurs in the Western U.S. — an area where the popularity of direct democracy initially gained traction. Roughly 60% of ballot measures emerge in just six states: Arizona, California, Colorado, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington.
The consequences are far reaching. With 6% of Americans still believing the moon landing was a hoax, giving voters the wheel sparks unease. But as Bill Buckley famously observed: “I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the Boston telephone directory than the faculty of Harvard University.” He probably would have included a few legislators in that observation as well.
Consider Amendment 2 in Florida. If at least 60% of voters approve of this proposal in November, the state’s minimum wage will jump by roughly 17% to $10 an hour next year. From there, the mandated wage will continue to rise by $1 annually through 2026. Talk about bad law, as well as bad timing.
The pandemic has crushed Florida businesses and the economy. The state unemployment rate remains more than double the readings from earlier this year and 780,000 people who had a job in February don’t have one now. For restaurants specifically, passage of Amendment 2 would be a sucker punch. The more than 1 million people typically employed by the state’s food service industry — including servers, cooks, hosts and dishwashers — should be concerned.
More specifically, a recent analysis estimates Florida businesses will be forced to shed 158,000 jobs if the ballot measure passes.
California voters also face a pivotal decision. Residents have the opportunity to reverse a portion of a harmful law called AB5. The California policy, which went into effect earlier this year, compels some companies to reclassify what are currently considered independent contractors as traditional employees. That’s a big problem for the app-based freelance business model, which powers some of the most cutting- edge companies — including Uber, Lyft and Door Dash to name a few.
California is currently in a legal battle with these companies over whether AB5 applies to them. If applied, the law removes the most attractive benefit of driving or shopping for an app-based business: flexibility. Workers would no longer have the autonomy to choose when or how long to be on the road.
The consequences would be dramatic: A report from the Berkeley Research Group finds this reduces the number of app-based drivers in California by 90% — an unwanted outcome for app-users and workers. Imagine relying on taxis to get around again.
Voters can prevent this scenario by approving Proposition 22.
Other ballot measures will impact fiscal policy. Colorado’s Proposition 116 lowers the state’s individual income tax rate. An Illinois ballot referendum would nullify a portion of the state constitution that requires a flat income tax rate. If passed, the government has already green lit legislation that would implement a graduated (translated: higher) income tax structure at the beginning of 2021.
A lot more than who will sit in the Oval Office will be decided on Nov. 3. Voters should choose wisely.
• Rick Berman is president of Berman and Co. in Washington, D.C.