5 key ballot issues to watch heading into 2024


Tuesday, November 7, is an off-year Election Day, in a cycle when many states don’t even bother holding elections—and whose results, clustered downballot on local races, could perhaps be predicted from a mile out. Sure, two gubernatorial races matter in Mississippi and Kentucky; they might hint at where momentum’s headed for 2024. But even as Democratic strategists wasted zero time urging after Sunday’s demoralizing (for them) New York Times/Siena College poll that showed Donald Trump leading President Joe Biden in five key swing states, it is way too early to read into this stuff.

Still, voters in various states will decide important ballot measures that will affect major national issues such as abortion access, legal marijuana, and wealth taxes. Elsewhere, the politicians they will empower at the polls have vowed to have impacts on everything from abortion to LGBTQ rights. Here’s a cheat sheet for ballot issues that could very well reverberate beyond their state boundaries.

Abortion access

The abortion debate has dominated the last election year, in the way political strategists and expert observers guessed it would since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Ohio’s Issue 1 puts a unique onus on state residents: They are the only voters nationwide on Tuesday who must decide whether to carve out a legal protection for abortion rights by amending their constitution. A majority yes vote on Tuesday would enshrine a legal right statewide, while a no would reject the referendum and preserve the status quo. Abortion is currently legal in Ohio up to the start of the 22nd week of pregnancy. But the state is now locked in a legal battle over whether to reduce that timeline considerably: In 2019, Republican Governor Mike DeWine signed a fetal-heartbeat bill outlawing most abortions once cardiac activity is detected, which usually occurs around week six. That bill has been blocked until the litigation is resolved.

Interested political groups have poured millions of dollars into the fights for and against the ballot measure. If it passes in socially conservative Ohio, the victory could embolden a more ambitious abortion-rights effort in 2024. “All eyes are on Ohio right now,” a spokesperson for Protect Women Ohio told the New York Times last week, adding, “States that are considering similar constitutional amendments are looking to us.”

Several other big state races carry implications for abortion access indirectly. Virginia is one of four states whose legislators are up for election during the off year. It’s also the sole Southern state that hasn’t banned abortion since Roe was overturned, making clinics there a destination for patients across the region seeking the procedure. Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin has been at work convincing voters to give the Virginia Senate back to his party, promising that he and a GOP-controlled legislature will pass what he called a “reasonable” abortion ban on Sunday’s This Week. It would start at the 15th week of pregnancy—the point after which public support for restrictions begins to narrow rapidly.

In Kentucky, Democrat Andy Beshear is seeking reelection as governor. Roe’s end caused a trigger law to kick in statewide, immediately banning abortion in nearly all non-life-threatening circumstances. Beshear’s campaign strategy has pivoted around bashing Republican Daniel Cameron as extreme for effectively supporting a full ban on abortion. Beshear’s attack ads have been gloves-off: A powerful one in September featured a testimonial from a woman who was raped by her stepfather when she was 12. “I’m speaking out because women and girls need to have options,” she says into the camera. “Daniel Cameron would give us none.”

LGBTQ rights

At least 506 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in U.S. states since the start of the year—a new record, per the American Civil Liberties Union. A number of them have already become law. But once again, Virginia, a state whose electoral politics can be a toss-up, is serving as an arena to gauge voter sentiment in the 2024 run-up, and eyes are on which party controls the legislature.

Virginia holds another singular distinction among Southern states: It has more protections of LGBTQ rights than laws restricting them. However, Youngkin has spent his first term as governor working to restrict trans youths’ rights, and his party is focused on challenging the state’s other policies. (Virginia bans health insurers from discriminating against transgender patients and bans conversion therapy, among other laws.)

That makes this “the most critical election” in recent memory, Narissa Rahaman, executive director of Equality Virginia, recently told The 19th, a nonprofit news organization focused on gender and politics. “This session, we had over 12 anti-trans bills introduced in the state legislature, and that was the most we have ever had,” she said, going on to contend that a lot is hanging in the balance on Tuesday, since those bills were blocked by the Democratic-controlled state senate.

Marijuana legalization

Ohioans are juggling another election hot potato: whether to legalize the recreational use of pot. It’s Issue 2 on the ballot. If the measure passes, it would allow individuals who are at least 21 years old to buy marijuana for personal use. Eligible adults would be able to purchase and possess up to 2.5 ounces. Alongside the measure would also come a tax of 10% on sales, and residents statewide would be permitted to grow up to six cannabis plants of their own. 

Twenty-three states have legalized recreational use, though they are concentrated in the West and New England. If Ohioans vote yes, the law would go into effect 30 days after the election—and so far, the polling suggests they will.

Voting rights for the mentally ill

In Maine, a hotly debated measure would grant people with mental illnesses the right to vote. The issue is confusing, because the state’s provision barring people from voting who are placed under guardianship for a mental illness was already declared unconstitutional; approval on Election Day would formally remove this “antiquated” language from the law, says Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows.

In 2001, a federal court ruled that Maine’s constitution violated the U.S. Constitution’s due-process and equal-protection clauses. In the years since, the country’s view of mental illness has shifted. This particular fight follows a very public battle that played out in the past two years: the freeing of Britney Spears from her father’s conservatorship, which lasted a decade and a half. As the Spears affair showed, however, these issues can be fraught. Meanwhile, Maine’s measure has its own critics, including some who say they favor extending the right on paper but argue that the ballot measure is worded poorly and would extend the ability to vote to “Mainers who cannot reason through a voting decision.”

Perhaps the biggest irony is that voters must parse the measure’s wonky language. If, for instance, you favor extending voting rights, should you choose yes or no in response to this ballot question?

Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to remove a provision prohibiting a person under guardianship for reasons of mental illness from voting for Governor, Senators and Representatives, which the United States District Court for the District of Maine found violates the United States Constitution and federal law?

(The answer, apparently, would be yes.)

Banning wealth taxes 

Finally, a Texas measure, if passed, would amend the law to bar the state from ever imposing a wealth tax on its citizens—moving the Lone Star State in the opposite direction of much of the nation. For years surveys have shown that about two-thirds of the U.S. population supports raising the tax rate on the rich. Proposition 3 would prohibit Texas from levying a hypothetical tax on either the wealth or net worth of anyone residing there. Opponents argue the measure simply bakes in Texas’s already-high wealth gap. (The richest 1% of tax filers statewide own $4.9 trillion in fortune, or half of the state’s total wealth, while the top 5% control 74%.)

Right now, no state in the country has adopted a wealth tax, though the measure’s backers argue that Texas should preemptively ban the idea to make sure one never happens. “This stops a truly leftist progressive tax from ever getting started in the state,” Republican state Senator Paul Bettencourt has said.


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