States are laboratories of democracy, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, and this political season has no shortage of fascinating experiments.
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Across the country, citizens have taken policy making into their own hands through the ballot initiative process. More than 150 proposals in 35 states garnered enough popular support to earn a spot on those states' ballots November 8.
With enough votes, these citizen-led proposals will bypass state legislatures and become law. Here’s a look at some of 2016’s most interesting ballot initiatives:
Marijuana Legalization in 5 States
This November, five states will consider various forms of marijuana legalization. Traditionally conservative Arizona will vote on a recreational pot initiative, as will neighboring Nevada. In New England, voters in Massachusetts and Maine will consider proposals to let adults grow, possess and use limited amounts of the drug.
As the country’s most populous state, with 39 million residents, California passing Proposition 64 would be a tipping point for legalizing marijuana. Some advocates there have framed the initiative as a criminal justice issue, highlighting the disproportionately high number of minorities arrested for marijuana charges.
California’s Gun Control and Ammo Initiatives
Following the San Bernardino shooting last December, a California gun control initiative garnered nearly twice the number of required signatures to get on the ballot. Proposition 63 would ban possession of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds (currently, sale is illegal, but possession is legal).
High-capacity magazines were once prohibited under the now-expired federal law, but California is poised to join a small number of states to reinstate a ban on large magazines. Some experts say it is more effective at reducing mass shootings than banning semi-automatic rifles. The initiative would also require a background check and authorization from the Department of Justice to purchase ammunition.
Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Leave
Four states are voting to gradually raise the state minimum wage in coming years. Washington State is proposing a tapered increase to $13.50 an hour by 2020, just shy of the most-generous-in-the nation hourly minimum wage of $15 that New York and Washington, D.C. will enact in 2020.
Wage increases are also on the ballot in Arizona, Maine and Colorado, where minimum wage could rise to $12 an hour by 2020, well above the current federal rate of $7.25. Proposals in Arizona and Washington would also entitle most workers paid sick leave.
Death Penalty Repeal
Most Americans support the death penalty, by a margin of 61 percent to 37 percent, according to the most recent Gallup poll. But since the mid-1990s opposition has steadily risen to what is now its highest level in more than 40 years.
A proposal to repeal California’s death penalty will test whether opposition to the state’s 38-year-old policy has finally reached critical mass.
Yet in a fitting reflection of nation’s mixed mood on capital punishment, California’s ballot will also feature a dueling initiative that would strengthen the death penalty by making the process more streamlined.
If both measures pass, the one with more "yes" votes becomes law and nullifies the other. Beyond the obvious effect on the nearly 750 California death row inmates, a death penalty repeal could invigorate the national movement to end capital punishment.