Most people already know who they’ll vote for on Nov. 3 to be president.
But after you’re done choosing your preferred president and ticking through the boxes of many other names on the ballot, you might be surprised by a different kind of election you’re prompted to make: a text-heavy block of information followed by the question “yes or no?”
These questions are called ballot measures, or referendums, and they can have a much more direct and immediate impact on your community and, even, your personal finances than who you vote for to be president.
For example, voters in Florida will be asked to decide whether or not to raise the minimum wage. In California, voters will weigh in on how Uber drivers are classified as workers. On issues like these, ballot measures can have far-reaching consequences for workers and consumers.
Here’s what you need to know:
What Are Ballot Measures?
A ballot measure is a proposition or question that appears on a state or local ballot for voters to decide, according to Josh Altic, project director for ballot measures at Ballotpedia, a nonprofit data resource for American politics and elections. There can be state-wide ballot measures as well as local ones.
On Election Day next month, 32 states will decide on 120 state-wide measures. If you’re not in one of these 32 states, there are still tens of thousands of local-level measures across the country that may be on your ballot.
These measures can aim to do a few different things like allocating money for municipal resources or even raising the minimum wage for workers.
Check out your state board of election site to find out what measures and candidates will be on your ballot and do your research before you cast your vote.
What’s On the Ballot
In many states, tax provisions exist in the state constitution. Therefore, if a tax change is sought or considered, it must be approved by voters.
A famous case of this was when voters passed the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) in Colorado in 1992. TABOR expanded the tax provision in Colorado to specify that any increase in taxes above a certain threshold must be put to a vote. This includes tax statues, not just constitutional amendments.
Be sure to pay attention to any state-wide ballot measures in your state, tax-related or not. They often have important policy implications that can directly impact your day-to-day life and finances. For example:
In Arizona, proposition 208 will ask voters to consider a proposed 3.5% income tax increase for individuals earning more than $250,000 per year, or joint filers earning $500,000 or more per year. Should the measure pass, the extra taxes would go to increasing teacher salaries and general school funding.
In Florida, voters will decide whether or not to increase the minimum wage to $15. If it passes, the state minimum wage will incrementally increase in the coming years before reaching $15 per hour in September 2026. If it fails, the minimum wage in Florida will remain $8.56 per hour.
Voters will decide on proposition 22, which would deem app-based drivers (Uber, Lyft, Doordash, Postmates, GoPuff etc.) as independent contractors and not employees. If voters pass the proposition, app-based drivers would not be covered by state employment-related labor laws.
This decision would reverse a 2019 bill by the California’s legislature, and is an example of another aim of ballot measures: veto referendums. A veto referendum tries to overturn a law passed by the legislature.
Illinois residents will vote on a proposed graduated income tax, repealing the constitutional requirement for a flat rate personal income tax. If it passes, Illinois would create tax brackets based on income, with higher earners paying higher percentages of income tax.
Voters will decide whether or not to increase the income threshold to qualify for special property assessment levels for certain groups of citizens. Special assessments freeze the assessed value of a residential property, thereby freezing the amount of property taxes owed. If it passes, this measure would grant more property tax relief to a greater number of seniors, disabled citizens and certain military servicepeople.
Voters in Arkansas will vote to continue a 0.5% sales tax that goes to state and local highways, roads and bridges, or to let it expire in 2023. A yes vote essentially makes permanent additional sales tax that currently is set to expire.
While statewide ballot measures do have sweeping implications for reform, also make sure you’re on the lookout for local ballot measures, which can have a quick impact on your immediate community.
Local Ballot Measures
There can be ballot measures at “every level of government,” says Altic. Counties, municipalities, and even tiny, special districts with just a few hundred voters can — and do — put measures on the ballot.
In Ohio, for example, local liquor laws and regulation are decided at a precinct level.
“It’s a question whether or not to allow a specific liquor license,” says Altic. “And it literally happens on the ballot. It’s on their ballot alongside who’s going to be the president.”
At the local level, measures related to taxes can be even more common.
“There are a lot more requirements on the local level for voter approval on tax increases or bond issues,” says Altic. “Most of the ones you’ll see are the ones that are required to be there.”
These issues can include passing school and housing bonds, or local tax measures. While bonds aren’t as directly applicable to one’s finances, they are essentially a way for local taxing bodies to borrow money, which in turn will factor into budgets right alongside the taxes we all pay and the services we all use. Citizen-initiated measures exist on the local level as well.
Voting is important, and your vote can have real consequences for what policies and measures are implemented in your local community. Do your research before you go so you’ll be prepared for all of the questions on your ballot. Have a plan in place for casting your ballot by November 3.