By Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN
Voters will decide Tuesday on key ballot measures related to issues including policing, election reform and some proposals authored in response to Covid-19 restrictions.
While there are typically fewer ballot questions in an off-election year, there are 24 statewide ballot measures for consideration in six states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Voters in some major cities, in addition to choosing their next mayor, will also have the opportunity to weigh in on an important issue that has been heavily debated in their communities.
Ballot questions influenced by Covid-19 restrictions
Texas — Proposition 3
Written in response to Covid-19 restrictions, Texans will consider a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the state or a political subdivision, such as an elected official, from “prohibiting or limiting religious services of religious organizations.”
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, a majority of states including Texas issued stay-at-home orders to minimize non-essential gatherings and slow the spread of the virus.
While a small handful of states limited in-person church services, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott deemed religious worship an essential service and exempt from his stay-at-home executive order.
Texas state lawmakers approved adding Proposition 3 to ballots with a bipartisan vote earlier this year, and Abbott has voiced support for the amendment.
Its Republican authors say that the amendment strengthens constitutional protections for Texas churches and that “in both times of calm and in times of crisis, we shouldn’t limit the Church.”
Opponents of Proposition 3, including Americans United for Separation of Church and State and some faith groups, argue that it endangers public health.
Texas — Proposition 6
Like Proposition 3, Proposition 6 was also influenced by the Covid-19 restrictions enforced during the height of the pandemic.
Last year, Texas restricted in-person visits from family and friends not designated essential caregivers to nursing homes to prevent any Covid-19 outbreaks among their vulnerable communities.
Proposition 6 would codify the right for long-term care residents to designate an essential caregiver for in-person visitation.
The Texas legislature passed a law earlier this year that accompanies the amendment.
Supporters say the amendment and the enabling bill strike a balance between ensuring residents have access to loved ones and giving a facility flexibility to respond to an outbreak, while critics argue that more than one caregiver at a time should be allowed, according to a Texas House Research Organization analysis.
Minneapolis — Question 2
Calls to defund and dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department grew in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last year by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Question 2 would replace Minneapolis Police Department with a new “Department of Public Safety” overseen by the mayor and city council.
The new public safety department could have police officers but the city will no longer be required to employ a minimum number of officers. If the measure is passed, the city would need to appoint a new public safety commissioner.
The campaign urging people to vote “no” says that Minneapolis needs comprehensive reforms, not a “dangerous experiment” to eliminate the Minneapolis Police Department “with no plan for the future of public safety in our city.”
Those advocating “yes” on Question 2 say the measure does not abolish the police, but would lead to more accountable, transparent and better trained officers, CNN reported.
Cleveland — Issue 24
Ballot initiative Issue 24 would establish a new civilian commission, called the Community Police Commission, whose members will have final authority over the police department’s policy and procedures, hiring and training, and disciplinary action.
The mayor would appoint 13 commission members, with the city council’s vote of approval, for a four-year term.
Under the initiative, the Office of Professional Standards, an independent agency that investigates non-criminal complaints against Cleveland police, would report to the Civilian Police Review Board instead of the police chief. The agency would also be allowed to expand its investigations beyond what is in the complaint.
The backers of Issue 24, Citizens for a Safer Cleveland, argue that the measure will ensure “real accountability” for police and that any investigations of police misconduct are “truly independent.”
Opponents of the ballot initiative warn that it gives too much power to unelected group of civilians with no police training or expertise, and few checks and balances.
Albany, New York — Proposal 7
Proposal 7, also known as Local Law J, asks city residents whether to expand a civilian police review board’s authority to conduct investigations and “to exercise oversight, review, and resolution of community complaints alleging abuse of police authority.”
Under the measure, the Community Police Review Board could conduct independent investigations even if there’s no complaint filed with the board and would have subpoena power.
The proposal would also allocate funding that is no less than 1% of the Albany Police Department’s total proposed budget for the board’s operations.
Albany’s city council unanimously approved the measure, believing that reforms are long overdue, while police unions have pushed back on the proposal, calling it a “power grab” and saying it will drive a wedge between the community and police, the Albany Times Union reported.
Austin, Texas — Proposition A
Voters in Austin, Texas are being asked whether to bulk up the city’s police department with Proposition A, as its supporters argue that the city is in the midst of a “crime wave” and a shortage of police officers.
Proposition A would require that the Austin police department employs at least two police officers for every 1,000 residents.
The measure would require a minimum of 35% “community engagement time” for all front-line officers and double their yearly mandatory training. It would also create an incentives program for officers who are in good standing, mentor cadets or are proficient in the foreign languages most spoken in Austin.
Save Austin Now, the group behind Proposition A, says the measure is needed to make the city safer.
“No Way on A” calls the proposal a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and argues that if the measure passes, the city will be forced to make cuts to other essential services and potentially lay off other city workers, like firefighters or 911 operators.
The group also points to the Austin city council’s approval of a record $442 million budget for the Austin Police Department.
Proposition A has an estimated cost between $271.5 million and $598.8 million over five years, and would require hiring between 403 to 885 officers over that time, according to the city’s chief financial officer.
Detroit — Proposal R
A “yes” vote on Proposal R would be in favor of the Detroit City Council establishing a task force that would recommend housing and economic programs that “address historical discrimination against the Black community in Detroit.”
The city council has been behind Proposal R, with President Pro Tempore Mary Sheffield saying in a statement that it will “help move the conversation from talk to action and towards making amends for the most egregious discriminatory and racist practices of the past.
“Ultimately, this is about repairing the damage done to the African American community and leveling the playing field so the aggrieved have an equal and real opportunity for success and a better quality of life,” she said.
New Jersey — Question No. 1
Question No. 1 asks New Jersey voters whether to allow betting on college sports. Currently, sports betting on college events in the state and on college events in which New Jersey teams participate is prohibited.
The resolution to add the question to the November ballot was approved by New Jersey’s legislature, with a vote of 36-1 in the Senate and 70-4 in the Assembly.
Democratic Sen. Paul Sarlo, one of the resolution’s main sponsors, said New Jersey has become “the country’s biggest sports betting market” and “we need to support and sustain this growing market that is fast becoming a significant part of our regional and state economies.”
The NCAA announced last year that the Prudential Center in Newark, home of the Seton Hall University’s basketball team, will be the site for the 2025 East Regional.
“March Madness is a high-profile event on the sports betting calendar and we should be a key player,” Sarlo said.
Approving college sports betting in the state would annually increase state revenues but by an “indeterminate amount,” according to the Office of Legislative Services’ estimation.
Richmond, Virginia — Local Referendum
Residents of Virginia’s capital city will decide whether to approve the construction of a new casino and 250-room luxury hotel in south Richmond along the I-95 highway.
The ONE Casino + Resort, which would be owned by media company Urban One, would be the first Black-owned casino in the United States.
Urban One says the project will generate an estimated $47 million in total annual revenue for Richmond and create 1,500 direct jobs.
Virginia Democrats including Gov. Ralph Northam, gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney have also urged residents to vote “yes” on the casino referendum, saying it will bring economic opportunity and jobs to the area.
US Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and former governor of the state, voted early and against the casino proposal because he “believes there are better ways to enhance economic development in Richmond,” WRIC reported.
Others opposed to the project argue that a casino is exploitative and would be detrimental to Richmond’s Black community.
Reforms to elections, voting, redistricting process
New York — Ballot Proposal 1
New Yorkers are being reminded to flip over their ballots to answer five statewide ballot proposals.
Of all the proposals up for consideration, Ballot Proposal 1 is the lengthiest and contains several components that would amend redistricting — the process for how district lines for congressional and state legislative offices are drawn.
The amendment would require that state assembly and senate district lines be based on total population, and count all residents including non-citizens. It would ensure in the state constitution that incarcerated people would be counted at their last address of residence rather than where they’re being detained.
Under the proposal, the independent redistricting commission could select its two co-executive directors by a simple majority, without consideration of the appointee’s party affiliation.
The two co-executive directors of the redistricting commission will not have to be members of different political parties, and the state legislature won’t be allowed to appoint them and their deputies if the commission fails to pick its co-executive directors.
The proposal would also cap the number of state senators at its current total of 63.
It also moves up the timeline for the commission to share its redistricting plans with state lawmakers.
New York — Ballot Proposal 3
New York currently requires that its residents register to vote at least 10 days before an election.
Ballot Proposal 3 would remove that requirement, clearing the way for state lawmakers to enact new laws that would allow a resident to register to vote in less than 10 days — such as same-day voter registration.
New York — Ballot Proposal 4
As it stands now, New York voters may vote by absentee ballot if they are unable to appear at their polling place due to illness or physical disability or expect to be absent from their county of residence, or New York City if they’re residents, on Election Day.
Ballot Proposal 4 asks whether to eliminate the requirement that a voter provide a reason if they wish to vote by absentee ballot.
Democrats and good government groups have backed the amendments 1, 3 and 4, saying the ballot proposals would expand access to voting and ensure fairer redistricting.
The New York state Republican Party has opposed all the initiatives, launching a “just say no” statewide tour urging voters to reject the ballot proposals.
The state GOP argues that Ballot Proposal 1 weakens independent redistricting; Ballot Proposal 3 would “invite election fraud and abuse”; and Ballot Proposal 4 would allow ballot harvesting.
Other ballot questions
- Maine — Question 3: A statewide question as to whether to approve an amendment declaring that all individuals have a “natural, inherent and unalienable right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume” the food of their choice.
- Ann Arbor, Michigan — Proposal B: Asks if ranked choice voting should be used to elect the mayor and city council members once Michigan authorizes use of the method
- Tucson, Arizona — Proposition 206: Proposes a minimum wage of $13 an hour in 2022 to rise to $15 by 2025
- Detroit — Proposal E: Asks whether the possession and therapeutic use of entheogenic plants by adults should be decriminalize to “the fullest extent permitted under Michigan law.”
- Philadelphia — Question #1: Asks whether to amend the city charter so it urges the Pennsylvania legislature and governor to legalize cannabis for recreational use in the state.
- Bellingham, Washington — Initiative No. 2021-02: Prohibits the city, including the Bellingham Police Department, from acquiring or using facial recognition technology .
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