Across the United States, local voters will decide critical ballot initiatives related to reproductive freedom, voting rights, marijuana and slavery in Tuesday’s midterm elections. Chris Melody Fields Figueredo of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center says the initiatives like abortion could surprise some people, and says the recent Kansas vote to protect abortion shows reproductive health can transcend party lines. Fields Figueredo also explains how slavery is still enshrined in some state constitutions as a form of punishment, which she says has “led to mass incarceration of Black and Brown communities.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Tune in Tuesday, November 8th, for our three-hour election night special. We’ll be broadcasting live starting at 9 p.m. Eastern. Visit democracynow.org for details and to watch.
Voters in five states will be deciding abortion-related ballot initiatives Tuesday. In Kentucky, voters are being asked to amend the state’s Constitution to declare that there is no constitutional right to abortion in the state. Reproductive rights activists are urging voters to vote no on Amendment 2. Meanwhile, in Michigan, voters will decide on a proposed amendment to add the right to reproductive freedom to the state’s Constitution. Voters in Vermont and California will also be asked to enshrine abortion rights in their state constitutions.
To talk more about these ballot initiatives and more, we’re joined by Chris Melody Fields Figueredo. She is the executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center in Washington, D.C.
Chris, thanks for joining us. Let’s start with abortion. Then we’ll move on to voting rights, gun control, etc. What’s happening with abortion, and where are these ballot initiatives being voted on?
CHRIS MELODY FIELDS FIGUEREDO: Well, thank you so much for having me on the show, Amy.
Yes, abortion is absolutely on the ballot. You already mentioned Michigan. Reproductive Freedom for All, Proposal 3, would enshrine the right to an abortion in the state Constitution. But it also looks at pre- and postnatal care, the right to contraceptives. We also have Vermont, that is affirmatively protecting guaranteeing the right to an abortion in its state Constitution, and California, as well. And then, as you mentioned, in Kentucky, there’s a proposal similar to what we saw in Kansas that would ban abortion. And then, in Montana, we have a proposal that would further criminalize and stigmatize abortion, as well. So, abortion is on the ballot.
And I think one of the really important things to remember going into tomorrow is what happened in Kansas, right? We can’t make assumptions just because a state is more traditionally conservative, right? Kansas really bucked that theory, right? That not only did that ballot measure overwhelmingly reject an abortion ban, it really transcended party lines, and it was a higher vote-getter than the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the recreational marijuana ballots around the country, the ballot initiatives?
CHRIS MELODY FIELDS FIGUEREDO: Well, for years we’ve been seeing through the ballot initiative process, first with the decriminalizing or making medical marijuana legal, and now we’re seeing a number of states. In this election, we have Arkansas, Maryland, the Dakotas, both Dakotas, and Missouri, that are looking at recreational marijuana. More than half the country now, through the initiative process, has approved some form of either medical or recreational marijuana. And that’s before voters in five states on Tuesday.
AMY GOODMAN: What about ranked-choice voting and other voting-related —
CHRIS MELODY FIELDS FIGUEREDO: Yeah, so, honestly, one of the biggest —
AMY GOODMAN: — ballot initiatives?
CHRIS MELODY FIELDS FIGUEREDO: Yeah, one of the biggest trends that we are seeing this year is democracy itself on the ballot. States like Nevada are looking at ranked-choice voting. Several municipalities, cities across the country are looking at ranked-choice voting. Michigan again is looking at Promote the Vote, which would allow for nine days of early voting, ensure that military and overseas voters have — that ballots are counted, guaranteeing audits. And Connecticut is also looking at early voting, as well. And then we also have direct —
AMY GOODMAN: Let me —
CHRIS MELODY FIELDS FIGUEREDO: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me just ask something on ranked-choice voting, since I think a number of people do not understand what it is. For example, it’s one of the reasons, I think, that Sarah Palin lost in Alaska, because Alaska has ranked-choice voting. Explain how it works.
CHRIS MELODY FIELDS FIGUEREDO: Yeah. So, ranked-choice voting is — you know, goes away from what we traditionally know, right? Fifty plus one percent of the vote. You vote for one person, and that’s it. With ranked-choice voting, voters have more choices, right? So, you literally will rank your top candidate, your second candidate, third candidate and so on. After those votes are counted, then it looks at the second candidate — right? — of who got the most votes. So, it’s a system that looks a lot more about the majority of the people and who is popular for them, and that person will win the election.
AMY GOODMAN: And let me ask you about slavery on the ballot in five states. Explain, Chris.
CHRIS MELODY FIELDS FIGUEREDO: Yeah. Well, it’s 2022, and, yes, slavery is still in state constitutions and the U.S. Constitution with the exception of slavery as a form of punishment. That is on the ballot in Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, Oregon and Vermont. And why this issue is so important is this exception, if everyone remembers Ava DuVernay’s amazing documentary on 13th — right? — it has led to mass incarceration of Black and Brown communities. It’s led to overcriminalization of these communities. And it has also had a huge impact on the prison labor population and whether folks who are working in prison, whether they have the ability to get paid.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, other examples that you think are key that transcend party lines across this country?
CHRIS MELODY FIELDS FIGUEREDO: Yeah, I mean, one of the biggest issues for now, since 2016, that has been really popular, is raising the minimum wage. That has transcended party lines. It’s on the ballot in Nevada, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, in Nevada raising it to $12 per hour. In D.C., where I live, we have the opportunity again to remove the subminimum wage for tip workers, right? Other issues like in-state tuition for undocumented students is on the ballot in Arizona. Gun safety is on the ballot in Oregon.
So many of these issues that we know in our communities are incredibly important are on the ballot this year, and they often — they transcend party lines, right? It’s something that we’ve been seeing for the last several years, and why we believe that now there’s a direct attack on direct democracy itself to limit the will of the people and our ability to bring these issues before our communities and vote for them.
AMY GOODMAN: Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, we want to thank you for being with us, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. And again, tomorrow night on Democracy Now!, we’ll be looking at how these ballots have fared all over the country in our election night special starting at 9 p.m. Eastern. You can check out all the information at democracynow.org.
Next up, we look at why civil rights groups are urging advertisers to boycott Twitter, after the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, bought Twitter and then, on Friday, fired half the staff, close to 4,000 people. Stay with us.
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