Measure for Measure

Come November, voters will be asked to decide on a number of ballot measures in addition to voting on candidates for local, state and federal office. These measures raise the stakes higher than ever for women across the country.

Here are some of the ones we’re watching.

Students checking in to vote at a polling place. (Penn State / Creative Commons)

Abortion Access

Voters in two states will cast ballots that could allow these states to criminalize abortion almost immediately should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade. In West Virginia, a legislatively referred constitutional amendment would specify the state does not protect a right to abortion access or funding for abortion-related care. In Alabama, a similar proposed change gives rights and protection to all “unborn life,” which could be defined as beginning even before the fertilized egg is implanted. “We want to make sure that at a state level, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, that the Alabama Constitution cannot be used as a mechanism by which to claim that there is a right to abortion,” said state Rep. Matt Fridy (R), who put forward the proposed amendment.

Voters in Oregon will decide on a proposal to ban the use of public funds for abortions after an antiabortion political action committee gathered enough signatures to place the question on November’s ballot. The state is one of 12 where courts require Medicaid coverage to include abortion, although Arizona does not comply. Only five states have voluntarily passed laws safeguarding Medicaid coverage for abortion, ensuring the poorest women have access to full reproductive health care. Last year, the Oregon legislature passed the Reproductive Health Equity Act, expanding Medicaid to non-citizens who are ordinarily excluded from benefits. Anti-abortion groups fumed—and this measure is the result.

This piece appears in the Fall 2018 issue of Ms. Become a Ms. member today to read more of our in-depth coverage of the high-stakes election and get access to the magazine in print and on our app.

Gender Equity

Nevadans will vote on whether to repeal taxes on tampons and other menstrual products, adding the items to a list of tax-free medical necessities. “It’s the 21st century,” said state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, cosponsor of the bill. “It’s time to acknowledge that feminine hygiene products are not a luxury but a necessity of life.” Nine states specifically exempt feminine hygiene products from tax.

Voters in Massachusetts will decide whether to repeal SB 2407, a transgender anti-discrimination law passed in 2016 that applies to public places like restrooms and hotels. One of the state’s most vocal anti-LGBTQ groups led the signature-gathering effort to place the repeal on the ballot.

Voters’ Rights

Both Michigan and Maryland are proposing to eliminate voter registration deadlines. Michigan’s ballot initiative, known as Promote the Vote, would also enact automatic registration when obtaining driver’s licenses or personal identification cards from the office of the secretary of state, and it would allow all registrants to enroll in vote-by-mail.
The voting rights of 1.5 million citizens could be reinstated if Florida residents vote yes on Amendment 4, which restores voting rights to felons. The state is one of only four that bar all felons from casting ballots unless granted clemency on an individual basis, which according to studies disproportionately disenfranchises African American would-be voters.

Republican legislators in North Carolina and Arkansas are proposing amendments to the states’ constitutions that would allow them to require voters to show a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. The Arkansas ballot measure was proposed after the state Supreme Court overturned a similar voter ID law, deeming it to be in violation of the state constitution. The Supreme Court last year refused to hear an appeal of North Carolina’s restrictive voter registration law, which had been struck down by a federal appeals court that found it was designed to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

Workers’ Rights

A Michigan group called MI Time to Care successfully qualified a ballot measure that would mandate paid sick leave. If the measure passes, the number of sick days allotted per year will depend on the size of the company. Michigan law gives the Legislature a 40-day window to either adopt the proposed measure as law or propose an alternative measure that would appear on the same ballot.

A successful petition drive by Raise Up Missouri and Missouri Business for a Fair Minimum Wage placed a wage-increase plan on the state’s November ballot. Voters can choose to raise the minimum wage from $7.85 to $12 by 2023. Its passage would be a boon to women, who are the majority of those working for minimum wage. Here’s hoping this will be one of many big wins for women this fall.

20160909_121504Michele Sleighel is a Research Assistant at the Feminist Majority Foundation and a Ms. contributor. She has an MA in Communication at the University of Texas in San Antonio and a BS in PR from the University of Texas in Austin and is very proud of her El Paso roots. Find her on Twitter @MicheleSleighel

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