Equality by Initiative: Ballot Measures to Watch This November

Measures on the ballot this November could advance the rights of women, people of color, voters, workers and LGBTQ people—or take them away.

Equality by Initiative: Ballot Measures to Watch This November
An official ballot dropbox in Multnomah County, Oregon. (MultCo Communications / Flickr)

Whether focused on raising the minimum wage or ending cash bail, mandating paid family and medical leave or limiting access to abortion, state initiatives put vulnerable groups’ futures on the ballot this November.

Here are some of the measures we’re watching:

Abortion Access


In Colorado, Proposition 115, an anti-abortion initiative, would prohibit doctors from performing abortions after 22 weeks’ gestational age—except in cases of “immediate” risk to a pregnant woman’s life. Medical professionals found guilty of performing an illegal abortion would face misdemeanor charges and a three-year suspension of their medical license. Colorado is currently one of the few states in the country that allows outpatient abortion up to 26 weeks and in certain cases up to 34 weeks, and it has become an important destination for women seeking abortion care.


In Louisiana, Amendment 1 seeks to add language to the state constitution declaring “to protect human life, nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” Three other states—West Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama— have passed similar amendments. If passed, Amendment One will: directly take away citizen’s civil liberties, reject any exceptions to the new amendment—including rape, incest and at-risk pregnancies—and eliminate any abortion-protections in the state of Louisiana, making it nearly impossible to implement any progressive reproductive rights legislation for decades to come.

Voting Rights


Prop. 17 supports amending the California Constitution to allow people on parole for felony convictions to vote. The state’s constitution currently disqualifies people with felonies from voting in elections until their imprisonment and/or parole are completed. California is one of three states that requires those convicted of felonies to complete both prison and parole sentences before regaining their right to vote. 

Prop. 18 supports amending the California Constitution to allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 at the time of the next general election to vote in primary/special elections. Eighteen other states and Washington D.C. currently allow 17-year-olds who will be age 18 by the general election to vote in the primaries.


Massachusetts voters will consider a measure to enact ranked-choice voting—meaning voters rank candidates in order of their preferences. When ranked-choice voting is implemented, preliminary studies have found it increases the numbers of women and people of color running in and winning elections.

(In fact, in this year’s elections, the largest number of jurisdictions in American history will have RCV measures on their ballots. Read more about ranked-choice voting ballot measures.)

Equality by Initiative: Ballot Measures to Watch This November
Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaking with supporters at a town hall at Bonanza High School in Las Vegas in April 2019. (Gage Skidmore / Flickr)


Question 4, Nevada’s State Constitutional Rights of Voters Amendment, would establish a constitutional guarantee of the right to “vote without being intimidated, threatened or coerced” and to “equal access to the elections system without discrimination,” among other protections and procedures to improve voting access.


The North Dakota Top-Four Ranked-Choice Voting, Redistricting and Election Process Changes Initiative supports establishing open primaries where the top four candidates with the most votes are able to move on to the general election; establishing ranked-choice voting for the general election (up to four candidates); making the state’s ethics commission responsible for state legislative redistricting; require a paper record for all ballots and audits of each election within 120 days by the Secretary of State; and require military/overseas voters to send ballots at least 61 days before the election.


The Puerto Rico Statehood Referendum supports the position that Puerto Rico should seek statehood and asks voters, “Should Puerto Rico be immediately admitted into the Union as a state?” If the measure is approved, the governor would be able to appoint a seven-member cabinet to represent Puerto Rico in their negotiations for statehood. The plan would have to be approved by the governor before being presented to Congress and the President. 

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of Ms.

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LGBTQ Rights


Nevada’s Question 2 Marriage Regardless of Gender Amendment would repeal a 2002 amendment that set a narrow definition of marriage as solely “between a male and female person.”

According to Ballotpedia, as of May 2020, Nevada was one of 30 states with such bans still on the books—all of which are unenforceable since the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges rendered same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional.

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Worker’s Rights


An initiative in Colorado—Prop. 118—would create a paid medical and family leave insurance program in the state. It would provide 12 weeks of job security and partial pay for most Colorado workers who need time off because of an illness or to care for a new baby or a sick family member, and up to 16 weeks in the case of certain pregnancy and childbirth complications.

Equality by Initiative: Ballot Measures to Watch This November
Fast food strike and protest for a $15/hour minimum wage at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis on April 15, 2015. (Fibonacci Blue / Flickr)


Florida’s Amendment 2 Minimum Wage Initiative would gradually increase the state’s minimum wage of $8.56 per hour to $15 by 2026. Currently, a full time employee earning the minimum wage in Florida makes about $17,804.80 per year. According to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, $12.39 is a living wage for an adult with no children in Florida. Advocates argue increasing the state’s wage would help disrupt the cycle of poverty and curb growing income inequality.

Criminal Justice


California Proposition 25, if passed, would uphold state law SB 10, ending the cash bail system and replacing it with a risk assessment of the detained person awaiting trial. Almost anyone considered “low risk” (with some exceptions) would be released from detainment, while those categorized as “high risk” would be allowed supervised release after arraignment unless a motion is made for preventive detention.

Equality by Initiative: Ballot Measures to Watch This November
#FreeBlackMamas rally in Philadelphia on May 15. (Joe Piette / Flickr)

But SB 10 appears to be a mixed bag: Proponents argue it would eliminate the unfair and unjust bail system, but opponents point out the bill would implement the use of computer algorithms to assess risk, which are likely to discriminate against poor people, people of color and residents of certain neighborhoods.

California Proposition 20, or Criminal Sentencing, Parole and DNA Collection Initiative, would increase the number of crimes for which early parole is restricted, make certain theft and fraud crimes chargeable as misdemeanors or felonies, and require DNA collection for those convicted of certain misdemeanors. Former California Governor Jerry Brown called the initiative the “latest ploy to scare Californians into supporting [this] cynical and deeply flawed ballot initiative, which would gut key provisions of Proposition 57 and other criminal justice reforms.”


On State Question 805—Criminal History in Sentencing and Sentence Modification Initiative—Oklahoma voters will decide whether or not prior felonies can be used to impose longer or harsher sentences on a person convicted of a non-violent felony. Proponents of the bill point to research concluding harsher punishments do not reduce crime, and that the bill will reduce Oklahoma’s prison population. Additionally, The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs estimated that $27 million in taxpayer savings would be saved each year if the ballot measure is successful.


Oregon Measure 110, the Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative, supports making personal/non-commercial possession offenses of a controlled substance—such as heroin, cocaine or methamphetamines—no more than a Class E violation (resulting in a $100 fine or a completed health assessment). The initiative also establishes a drug addiction treatment and recovery program that would be funded in part by the state’s own marijuana tax revenue, as well as state prison savings. Those in opposition wish to maintain the existing maximum penalty for a Class A misdemeanor of one year in prison and a $6,250 fine.


Both Nebraska (Amendment 1, Remove Slavery as Punishment for Crime from Constitution Amendment) and Utah (Amendment C, Remove Slavery as Punishment for a Crime from Constitution Amendment) voters will decide whether or not to end the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments via amendments to their respective state constitutions. Currently, twelve state constitutions include what is referred to as the exception clause. The bills have bipartisan support in both states, with no known opposition campaigns. 



In Washington state, Senate Bill 5395 was passed by the legislature in signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in March. However, those opposing the bill collected enough signatures to place the Sex Education in Public Schools Measure back on the ballot as Referendum 90, putting the bill on hold until the election. Referendum 90 would require public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education for all students, while offering the option for parents to excuse their children if requested.

The measure would require education on “affirmative consent and bystander training” among other topics for other students, as well as “social and emotional learning” for children in younger grades. Opponents of the measure include the State Senate and House Republican Caucuses, as well as various school districts, anti-abortion and Catholic organizations.

Gender Equality


A proposed amendment—Constitutional Amendment A, Gender-Neutral Constitutional Language Amendment—would remove all gendered language from the Utah Constitution, replacing, for instance, “all men” with “all persons” and “husband” or “wife” with “spouse.” Similar amendments have been enacted in New York, Maine, Maryland, Wisconsin and California.


California’s Prop. 16 would repeal the state’s notorious Prop. 209, which banned affirmative-action policies in California. This repeal would allow public institutions—state and local governments, as well as public universities and other public entities—to once again consider race and sex when making decisions on hiring, admissions and awarding contracts. Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D), who introduced Prop. 16, notes that the measure is particularly timely:

“The ongoing pandemic, as well as recent tragedies of police violence, is forcing Californians to acknowledge the deep-seated inequality and far-reaching institutional failures that show that your race and gender still matter.”

Drug Legalization

Equality by Initiative: Ballot Measures to Watch This November
Star Child, a human rights activist, speaks about the injustices of the war on drugs at U.C. Berkeley on April 20, 2010. (Wikimedia Commons)

In several states, marijuana legalization is on the ballot. Arizona (Proposition 207, Marijuana Legalization Initiative), Montana (I-190, Marijuana Legalization Initiative), and New Jersey (Public Question 1, Marijuana Legalization Amendment) all have measures that if passed, would legalize the recreational use of marijuana for persons over 21 years of age. Montana’s measure would also allow for the “resentencing or expungement of marijuana-related crimes.” 

Mississippi (Measure 1, Initiative 65 and Alternative 65A, Medical Marijuana Amendment) and South Dakota (Measure 26, Medical Marijuana Initiative) have measures on the ballot that would legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes only (with restrictions on which medical conditions permit use). 

And Oregon (Measure 109, Psilocybin Mushroom Services Program Initiative) and the District of Columbia (Initiative 81, Entheogenic Plants and Fungus Measure) will both vote on the legalization of psilocybin mushrooms and entheogenic plants in some capacities.

Oregon’s measure would support the establishment of a program that would “permit licensed service providers to administer psilocybin-producing mushroom and fungi products to individuals 21 years of age or older.”

Notably, D.C.’s initiative would relegate non-commercial cultivation, distribution, possession, and use of entheogenic plants and fungi to among the lowest law enforcement priorities.

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About , and

Corinne Ahrens is a recent graduate of The American University where she studied Political Science with a specialization in Gender, Race, & Politics as well as Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. Corinne has been writing for Ms. since October 2019 and is a former Ms. editorial intern. She currently works at Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy in their Philadelphia office.
Giselle Hengst recently graduated from Vanderbilt University with degrees in Women's & Gender Studies and Medicine, Health, & Society. She is currently an editorial and social media intern at Ms. magazine.
Oliver Haug is a social media editor and podcast producer with Ms. magazine. They are also a freelance journalist, focusing on LGBTQ+ issues and sexual politics. Their writing has previously appeared in Bitch Magazine, VICE, them.us, the New York Times' newsletter "The Edit," and elsewhere. You can read more of their work here, and follow them on Twitter @cohaug.