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What state ballot measures Americans are considering this year

Although most national attention is focused on the races for president and Congress, policies and agendas at the state and local levels are on the ballot as well. Voters across the country are considering ballot measures about racism and election reform, among others -- as well as who should represent them in their own state legislatures. Reid Wilson of The Hill joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Much of the focus right now is on the marquee contests on the ballot, the race for president and the competitive races that could determine control of the U.S. House and Senate.

    But policies and agendas at the state level are on the line as well.

    Amna Nawaz looks at some of the other ballot items that voters across the country are considering.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In a number of states, voters are weighing in on ballot measures on a range of topics, everything from election reform to issues having to do with race and racial equality.

    And they're also voting on who should represent them in their own state legislatures.

    Here to walk us through all the details and trends is Reid Wilson. He's a correspondent with The Hill.

    Reid, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Good to see you. And thanks for making the time.

    Let's start with some of these ballot measures. It can be a good way to see how some of those bigger national issues are resonating at the state and local level.

    Election reform is something we have heard a lot about on the national level. Is that making its way onto ballot measures this year?

  • Reid Wilson:

    Absolutely.

    We have seen election reform start in state legislatures over the last decade, move to the courts in recent years, and now voters are getting to have their say. Voters in states like Massachusetts and Alaska will decide on whether to implement ranked choice voting, which is a pretty innovative way of conducting elections without a run-off.

    Voters in some other states are deciding whether or not to create independent redistricting commissions that would take the power to draw political lines out of the hands of state legislatures. And voters in other states, three states in particular, Colorado, Alabama, and Florida, are going to vote on whether to require only citizens vote in their local elections.

    Now, of course, only citizens can vote in local and national elections. This is sort of one of those efforts to get more conservative voters out to the polls in just the last few days before Election Day.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And we should mention something like 14 different states have ballot measures that could redefine voting practices in some way on the ballot this year.

    Reid, are there other trends, other topics that you're seeing that are catching your attention this year that haven't in years past, that are new in some way?

  • Reid Wilson:

    Well, one thing I'm seeing is what I'm calling the anti-racist bucket of ballot initiatives.

    There are a lot of state constitutions around the country that still contain some pretty arcane language that has been sort of overturned by federal courts or superseded by the U.S. Constitution.

    So, voters in Alabama this year will be asked whether to take segregationist language out of their state constitution, which still requires separate schools for whites and nonwhite children. They will be asked to strip that, even though it hasn't been enforced or implemented for more than half-a-century now.

    In states like Nebraska and Utah, voters will be asked to end a legislative — part of their Constitution that still allows slavery as a punishment for some crimes. Now, again, that hasn't been enforced for more than a century, but the language is still there.

    And then, in Mississippi, we're going to see voters ratify a new flag with the magnolia flower design, taking the place of the old Confederate battle standard. And Mississippi is also going to vote on a measure that would elect the governor directly, rather than requiring that gubernatorial candidate to win a majority in Statehouse districts, sort of their version of the Electoral College.

    It was a Jim Crow era way of making sure that no Black candidate could ever win the governorship in Mississippi. So, they're going to vote on that this year.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You know, we should mention the pandemic has obviously upended the way millions of Americans are voting this year.

    Is it having any kind of impact on ballot measures and initiatives that you're tracking, too?

  • Reid Wilson:

    Well, we have seen fewer ballot measures qualify for the ballot this year.

    And that's because, when the pandemic hit, in March and April, that's prime signature-gathering time. If there are no big fairs or sporting events or areas where a lot of people congregate, it's going to be a lot harder to collect signatures.

    So there were a number of ballot measures across the country where the campaigns just said, eh, I'm going to — we will wait until next year, when it's safer to go out and collect signatures.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Reid, give us a little bit of the landscape of what you're seeing when you're looking at the state legislature races across the country.

    Is there anything you're seeing there that can tell us a little bit more about how to understand some of the national trends?

  • Reid Wilson:

    Right. Yes.

    And I think we're seeing a lot of the national trends playing out in state legislative seats. Democrats are still trying to make comebacks from having lost so badly in the 2010 midterm elections. The following cycle, Republicans redistricted a lot of seats around the country, and, therefore, they have held on to big majorities in state legislators in about two-thirds of the state legislators across the country.

    This year, if a Democratic wave develops, and Democrats take back a lot of those seats, that's going to matter a lot in terms of not just what a state looks like for the next 10 years, but what the U.S. Congress looks like for the next 10 years.

    The redistricting cycle is going to begin come January. If Democrats have a seat at a lot of those tables in states like Texas, states like North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, they're going to be able to draw some districts that will effectively lock in a Democratic U.S. House of Representatives for a decade.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Those are states we're all going to be watching very closely over the next few days and through Election Day and night.

    That is Reid Wilson, correspondent with The Hill, joining us tonight.

    Thank you so much, Reid.

  • Reid Wilson:

    Thank you.

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