Not just the House and Senate: Voters to decide on marijuana legalization and election reform in 2018 ballot measure contests

  • More than 150 ballot measures will be up for consideration on Tuesday, according to a Ballotpedia tally, including 63 measures placed on the ballot by petition that could create new laws or strike down old ones, circumventing state legislatures.
  • Ballot measure campaigns have spent more than $1 billion this cycle — on par with the amount raised for a successful presidential bid — and have attracted the attention of major businesses and spending groups.
  • The key issues this year are election reform and marijuana legalization, with voters in 16 states taking up the issues.
People cast their ballots at a community center during early voting October 25, 2018 in Potomac, Maryland, two weeks ahead of the key US midterm polls. (
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images
People cast their ballots at a community center during early voting October 25, 2018 in Potomac, Maryland, two weeks ahead of the key US midterm polls. (

Voters across the country will head to the polls on Tuesday to determine which party controls the House of Representatives and the Senate for the final two years of President Donald Trump's first term in office.

But it is not just lawmakers on the ballot. More than 150 ballot measures will be up for consideration on Tuesday, according to a Ballotpedia tally, including 63 measures placed on the ballot by petition that could create new laws or strike down old ones, circumventing state legislatures.

The bottom of the ballot may not be earning headlines, but it is fertile ground for big spenders looking to shape policy at the state level. Ballot measure campaigns have spent more than $1 billion this cycle — on par with the amount raised for a successful presidential bid — and have attracted the attention of major businesses and spending groups.

The issues are heavily charged. In three states, West Virginia, Oregon and Alabama, voters will consider placing new limits on abortion access. In three others — Idaho, Utah and Nebraska — voters could choose to expand Medicaid over strong local Republican opposition.

The key issues this year are election reform and marijuana legalization, with voters in 16 states taking up the issues. Measures in a number of states have pit renewable energy proponents against heavily funded opposition campaigns. Six states could face tougher limits on their ability to collect taxes.

Election reform

One of the most closely watched initiatives is a Florida proposal that could restore voting rights to most convicted felons in the state.

The measure is expected to pass, which would enfranchise more than 1.5 million people — 10 percent of the voting population — in a state that often proves critical in presidential races. Interestingly, there has been little in the way of organized opposition.

Voters in four other states will decide issues that observers say could "end gerrymandering" by shifting redistricting decisions from elected officials to independent commissions. It's an issue that has rattled statehouses around the country and could prove consequential for the national political landscape.

The U.S. Supreme Court took up the issue earlier this year, but ultimately punted on a major ruling, lending more weight to the measures on the ballot in Michigan, Utah, Missouri and Colorado.

Marijuana legalization

Despite a federal prohibition, nine states and the District of Columbia allow for recreational marijuana use. If pot advocates have their way on Tuesday, two more states could join in.

Voters in Michigan and North Dakota will decide whether to permit recreational weed use via ballot measures this Election Day. That is in addition to measures in Missouri and Utah that could allow the drug for medicinal purposes.

2016 was seen as a watershed year for marijuana legalization, and much of the activity took place via ballot measure. Arkansas, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada and North Dakota all increased access to marijuana that year.

Renewable energy

A number of progressive initiatives to increase renewable energy use are butting up against heavy spending from business groups opposed to the proposed regulations. Climate activists have largely turned to the states, given the federal government's reluctance to act, and November's voting could indicate how successful that strategy could be.

In Washington state, voters will return to an issue they did not approve in 2016 that would put a tax on carbon emissions. The measure, backed by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, would hit large producers of carbon emissions with a fee that would fund clean energy projects, among other items.

The billionaire Democrat Tom Steyer, the anti-Trump organizer who leads NextGen America, has entered the fray in Arizona and Nevada. His group is underwriting measures in those states that would require utilities to source half their energy from renewable sources. In Arizona, the proposal has led to the "clash of the financial titans," according to the Arizona Capitol Times, with the state's largest electric utility contributing $11 million in opposition.

Polling on state ballot measures is sparse, though 68 percent of voters said they supported the Nevada renewable energy measure in an April poll. In contrast, a September poll showed that a plurality of Arizonans opposed the measure in their state.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, liberal groups and industry stalwarts are locked in a fight over the economic impact of a proposal that would impose new regulations on new oil and gas wells. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission says the proposal, which would bar drilling near homes, schools and rivers, would cost the state more than $1 billion over the next 12 years.

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