7 state ballot initiatives to watch in the 2022 midterms

From reproductive health care to labor organizing and beyond

With less than one week to go before polls close in the 2022 midterms, much of the public attention has understandably been centered on whether Republicans can regain control of one — or both — chambers of Congress. For many voters, however, the most immediate ramifications of the upcoming elections may be felt much closer to home than in Washington, D.C., with a number of ballot measures poised to dramatically reframe the way several states address everything from reproductive healthcare access to legalized marijuana to fundamental voting rights.

Here are the seven ballot initiatives to watch in the coming days:

Proposition 1, California

In the wake of the Supreme Court's Dobbs v Jackson ruling against a federal right to reproductive health-care access, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom quickly moved to position his state as a leader in the growing effort to ensure abortion rights on a state-by-state level. With Proposition 1 on the ballot, California voters are now tasked with deciding whether or not to amend the state constitution to "expressly include an individual's fundamental right to reproductive freedom, which includes the fundamental right to choose to have an abortion and the fundamental right to choose or refuse contraceptives."

Proposition 1 is not alone in offering voters the opportunity to make abortion access a state constitutional right — Michigan's Proposal 3 and Vermont's Proposal 5 both share similar aims this election cycle — however, California's sheer population size and economic clout make it the most significant in terms of potential impact. Should it pass, more than 10 percent of the country will suddenly find themselves living in a state with a constitutional right to reproductive health, overnight.

Amendment 2, Kentucky

While California moves to enshrine reproductive health as a fundamental right, Kentucky's Amendment 2 seeks the virtual opposite: proposing an amendment that states in no uncertain terms that "nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion." While Kentucky has already largely banned abortion procedures under a trigger law enacted after the Supreme Court's Dobbs ruling earlier this year, critics of Amendment 2 say that passage would cut off future legal challenges to expand abortion access under the state's constitution.

Crucially, Kentucky's proposed amendment is similar to one that was soundly rejected by voters in Kansas this past August in an election surprise widely heralded as a sign of the growing political blowback against the conservative-heralded Dobbs decision. 

Amendment 1, Illinois

With the popularity of labor unions at a more than half-century high, Illinois voters are now poised to join only a handful of other states in guaranteeing a constitutional right to collective bargaining, while preemptively scuttling future attempts to limit union power. If passed, Amendment 1 would add language to the state's constitution to protect employees' "fundamental right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing for the purpose of negotiating wages, hours, and working conditions, and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work." 

The proposal, supported by Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker, and labor groups such as the AFL-CIO and the Chicago Teachers Union, comes four years after the U.S. Supreme Court's "right to work" ruling in Janus v AFSCME. That case, involving an Illinois public sector employee, effectively decoupled employment from mandatory union dues in certain cases and was generally seen as a significant blow to both labor and Democrats at large. Currently, more than half the states in the nation have right-to-work laws, which enable employees to refuse union membership and dues payments, even if they are beneficiaries of the union's collective bargaining agreements. 

Proposition 308, Arizona 

Owing in no small part to geographic necessity, Arizona has long been at the forefront of the country's ongoing debate over immigration and undocumented migration. On Election Day, voters there will have the opportunity to decide if undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children should be able to attend public universities and community colleges at in-state tuition levels.

Currently, Arizonans enrolled in the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) pay half-again as much as citizens, predicated on having met certain conditions, and out-of-state tuition should those conditions not be met. Under Proposition 308, DACA participants would have those conditions eased, and — if met — would pay the same as their naturalized peers at state schools. While opponents argue that Prop 308 encourages further undocumented immigration, and raise taxes, proponents claim it will expand educational opportunities in the state while bolstering the workforce. 

Question 4, Maryland

While efforts to legalize recreational cannabis for adults continue apace across multiple states, Maryland is poised to become just the second state in the country to do so by ballot initiative — after state lawmakers effectively punted the issue to the voters earlier this year. Question 4, which plainly asks "do you favor the legalization of the use of cannabis by an individual who is at least 21 years of age on or after July 1, 2023, in the State of Maryland?" would add language to the state constitution allowing for the use and possession of marijuana, while directing lawmakers to craft the requisite infrastructure thereof. 

Maryland is not the only state on the precipice of joining the 19 others with legalized recreational pot; voters in North and South Dakota, Missouri, and Arkansas will also face similar cannabis questions on their ballots this year. While ballot initiatives have overwhelmingly been the most prevalent means of state-level cannabis legalization over the past several decades, to date New Jersey has been the only state to move toward legalizing marijuana by shifting it from the legislative arena to the voters directly. Should Maryland voters follow New Jersey's example, it could help establish a new precedent model for state lawmakers unable to achieve legislative legalization. 

Amendment 1, Iowa

Following a pair of U.S. Supreme Court rulings striking down gun control laws in New York and Massachusetts this year, voters in Iowa will have an opportunity to enshrine some of the most expansive language guaranteeing firearm access in the country to their state constitution on Election Day. If enacted, Amendment 1 would see text guaranteeing that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right" added into the state's foundational document. Moreover, it adds that "any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny," setting the legal bar that much higher for any potential challenges to come.

While the U.S. Supreme Court's prior rulings have already set the legal groundwork to stave off many state-level efforts to rein in firearm access and ownership, Iowa's Amendment, if passed, would create a second, similarly fortified bulwark against gun control legislation, effectively rendering any future efforts impossible. 

Propositions 128, Arizona

In Arizona, some of the most significant, and potentially impactful ballot measures being decided this year are measures on measures. Of a trio of initiatives designed to dramatically alter the ballot measure process as it stands now, Proposition 128 stands out as the bellwether of how voters see — and value — their ability to directly enact laws themselves. 

Since 1998's "Voter Protection Act," Arizona lawmakers have been unable to change measures passed by voters directly without clearing significant legislative hurdles. Proposition 128, if passed, would undo those restrictions, and allow lawmakers to alter, or de-fund, entire ballot initiatives if any portion of the law is deemed unconstitutional by the state or U.S. Supreme Court. Opponents to the measure claim that it would give lawmakers the ability to override — and circumvent — the will of the voters, while advocates argue it will simply make it easier to clean, streamline, and ultimately strengthen potentially problematic initiatives. 


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