Florida: Amendment 4 passes, restoring voting rights to most people convicted of felonies after the full completion of the terms of their sentences. This constitutional amendment affects some 1.4 million people. Until Tuesday night, Florida was one of just four states where individuals convicted of felonies were disenfranchised for life. Now its voters are responsible for the single biggest expansion of the franchise since the passage of the 26th Amendment in 1971. Florida also passed Amendment 11, which could allow reforms to mandatory minimum sentencing or drug policy reforms to apply retroactively.
Louisiana: Amendment 2 passes, ending the Jim Crow-era practice of allowing felony convictions without a unanimous jury. Louisiana was one of the last two states in the country to require only 10 of 12 jurors to convict in felony cases. More than 40 percent of all those who have been recently exonerated of crimes in Louisiana were found guilty by non-unanimous juries.
Colorado: Amendment A passes. The amendment removes the state constitution's exception to the prohibition of slavery in the case of punishment for a crime.
Michigan: Proposal 1 passes. The measure legalizes, taxes, and regulates marijuana for adults in the state.
Ohio: Issue 1 fails to pass. The reform would have made fourth and fifth-degree felony drug possession offenses misdemeanors.
Washington: I-940 passes, making it more possible to hold police officers criminally liable for improper use of force.
So much hangs in the balance in this year’s midterm elections. Control of Congress, governorships, state houses, and district attorney and sheriff's offices across the country are up for grabs.
Many candidates up and down the ballot are debating criminal justice issues, and in many places, this election could be a turning point in the fight to end mass incarceration. Here are seven key ballot initiatives supported by the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice that would challenge racism and unnecessary incarceration in the criminal justice system:
Ohio – Yes on Issue 1: Ohio’s Issue 1 would make unnecessarily harsh fourth- and fifth-degree felony drug possession offenses misdemeanors, both prospectively and retroactively. The initiative would also limit the flow of Ohioans going to prison for technical probation violations and expand opportunities for release from prison for people who participate in rehabilitative or educational programs. These reforms are expected to reduce the state prison population by about 10,000 (20 percent) and, as a result, save more than $100 million per year. Those funds would be reinvested in desperately needed treatment services for people with substance dependencies and trauma recovery for crime survivors. Locking people in cells does not address addiction or the underlying factors that call people to use. Issue 1 is the solution.
Louisiana – Yes on Amendment 2: Louisiana’s Amendment 2 would put an end to the Jim Crow-era practice of allowing felony convictions without the full jury agreeing on the person’s guilt. Louisiana is one of the last two states in the country to require only 10 of 12 jurors to convict. The law was written in 1898 as a way to reduce the influence of Black people on juries. Amendment 2 has drawn bipartisan support, including from law enforcement, civil rights advocates, and formerly incarcerated activists and advocates.
Florida – Yes on Amendment 4: Florida voters will decide whether to change a 150-year-old provision in the state constitution that permanently takes away the eligibility to vote from people with felony convictions. Currently 1.7 million Floridians can’t vote due to a felony conviction, even though 1.4 million of those people are no longer under any form of supervision. If the Voting Restoration Amendment passes, people will be allowed to vote after the full completion of all the terms of their sentence. Passage of Amendment 4 would be a remarkable boost for voting rights and curb one of the worst forms of discrimination against people living with a record.
Florida – Yes on Amendment 11: Amendment 11, which has received less coverage than Amendment 4, could have a huge impact on mass incarceration in Florida. Florida’s constitution does not currently allow reforms to criminal sentencing to apply retroactively, meaning thousands of people must remain incarcerated even while the state makes critical changes to its criminal justice system that would otherwise set them free. If Amendment 11 passes, reforms to mandatory minimum sentencing or drug policy reforms could apply to people currently incarcerated and help Florida end its mass incarceration crisis.
Colorado – Yes on Amendment A: Like the U.S. Constitution’s 13th Amendment, the Colorado Constitution bans slavery except as punishment for a crime. This exception to the ban on slavery was used by many states after the Civil War as a way to keep newly freed Black people enslaved through the imposition of Black Codes and convict lease programs. That legacy continues through to today. Indeed, this year’s Nationwide Prison Strike included a demand to end prison slavery. Amendment A would not end exploitation in prisons, but it would make Colorado the first of more than 15 other states with similar language in their constitutions to put an end to the potential for slavery in any context, once and for all.
Washington – Yes on I-940: The U.S. has a devastating problem with police violence, and voters in Washington State have a chance to do something about it. Police have killed more than 300 people in Washington since 2005, yet only one officer has been charged for unjustifiably killing somebody while on duty, and he was acquitted. One reason is that Washington’s legal standard in police use-of-force cases is the worst in the country. Prosecutors must prove an officer had “malice” to hold that officer accountable for an unjustifiable killing. I-940 would change that to whether a “reasonable” officer would have acted that way. This change would put Washington in line with the standard used by many other states. I-940 would also require independent investigations of serious police violence as well as violence de-escalation and mental health training for police. Put simply, I-940 is a life saver.
Michigan – Yes on Proposal 1: Michigan police made 23,429 arrests for marijuana in 2016, and police arrest Black Michiganders at a rate 2.6 times higher than whites, despite similar usage rates. In some counties, the rate is much higher. Proposal 1 would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for adults in Michigan and remove one tool police have to criminalize people for behavior that should be legal. Tax revenues from the sale of marijuana would go to Michigan public schools, transportation funds, and local communities.
Paid for by American Civil Liberties Union, Inc., 125 Broad Street, New York, NY 10004, and authorized by and provided in-kind to: Ohio Safe and Healthy Communities Campaign, Yes on Two Ballot Committee, Floridians for a Fair Democracy, Yes on 11, Abolish Slavery Colorado, De-Escalate Washington I-940 (https://www.deescalatewa.org/), and Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.