The State Ballot Measures That Could Change the Whole Country

Across the country this November voters will be deciding the fate of about 173 state ballot measures. Many of these measures deal with relatively minor issues, like an amendment to correct a constitutional mistake relating to the oath of office requirement in North Dakota. Several of the measures could result in important policy changes in their respective states, but the impact will be almost exclusively local.

A handful of the initiatives this year, however, could end up having important long term national implications:

Genetically Modified Food: California Proposition 37 – One of the most highly contested initiatives in the country this year is California’s Proposition 37, Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food. The initiative would require food companies to label if their product contains genetically modified ingredients.

What gives this initiative national implications is that California is by far the largest market in the country. It may not make financial sense for food companies to produce specially labeled California-only versions of their products. As a result, it could effectively force some companies to put GMO labels on all the food they sell in United States. The passage of this initiative could also encourage voters in other states to put forward similar initiatives.

The potential implications of this measure are clearly understood by the food, seed and chemical industries. Monsanto, Dow, Pepsico, General Mills, and Coca-Cola are just a few of the big companies spending millions to defeat the initiative.

Marijuana Legalization: Colorado Amendment 64, Oregon Measure 80,Washington State Initiative 502 – Initiatives to legalize marijuana are on the ballot in three states. If even one of them wins approval this year, it could start a national movement towards liberalizing marijuana policy. For example, when California voters approved medical marijuana in 1996, it created a national trend. Within just four years, six other states had followed suit.

Having even one state legalize marijuana would demonstrate that the politics of the issue have significantly changed, and serve as an example to other states. It could even have international implications, by spurring other countries to experiment with legalization. The United States has been one of the biggest impediments to other countries legalizing marijuana, but if individual states legalize marijuana that could undermine the United States’ ability to put pressure on other countries.

Marriage Equality: Maine Question 1, Maryland Question 6,Washington Referendum 74 – Marriage equality has made big strides on both a legislative and judicial front in recent years but up until now it has always lost at the ballot. That could change this November. If voters in Maine, Maryland, and/or Washington affirmatively vote in support of same-sex marriage it would send a powerful signal that the politics surrounding this issue have undergone a monumental shift. If voters reject the referendums meant to stop same-sex marriage in Maryland or Washington it could encourage other state legislatures to approval similar laws and remove the worry that such a law would be overturned by voters.

Top Two Primaries: Arizona Proposition 121 – Via the initiative process, voters in two states –Washington and California — have recently replaced partisan primaries with a top two primary system. All candidates, regardless of party, appear on the same primary ballot and only the two with the most votes go on to the general election. This sometimes results in only two Republicans or only two Democrats facing each other in the general election. Proposition 121, if approved by voters, will implement this same system in Arizona. Having voters in three states in less than a decade adopt this change could potentially be the start of a national trend. Even if the top two system doesn’t spread beyond these three states it will still have a subtle impact national politics and policy by changing how a significant number of members of Congress need to run.

Redistricting: Ohio Issue 2 – In a large state like Ohio, which has 16 House districts, gerrymandering could potential give one party a several seat advantage. Currently the Ohio state legislature has the power to draw the Congressional districts, but if Issue 2 is approved the job would instead go to a citizens commission. Theoretically in future close elections, how the districts are drawn could make the difference between one party narrowly winning or losing control of the House of Representatives.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at