2022 midterms

Abortion, Gambling, and Marijuana: 2022’s Biggest Ballot Initiatives

Petitioners who forced a state constitutional ballot initiative to protect abortion rights in Michigan. Photo: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images

Odds are pretty good that when you vote this year, you will encounter not only candidate choices but ballot measures, whether on state constitutional amendments, legislative initiatives, or local bond referenda. In 37 states, voters will deal with a total of a 132 statewide ballot measures, some high profile, others probably baffling to half the voters, who will read them for the first time at the polls.

There are often national policy and political trends in ballot initiatives. The 2022 midterms are no exception with the national debate on abortion policy triggered by the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade already spurring several ballot tests. Here is an overview of the big topics facing voters.



Kansas voters already delivered a smashing victory for abortion rights in August, when they decisively voted down a constitutional amendment passed by the Republican-controlled legislature that would have overturned state-court precedents recognizing a right to abortion. A similar initiative is on the November ballot in Kentucky, where abortion-rights advocates have outspent supporters of an anti-abortion initiative in the early going.

Anti-abortion activists in Montana secured from the legislature a ballot initiative that is far less sweeping but has some symbolic freight. According to Ballotpedia, it requires medical care to be provided to infants born alive after an attempted abortion by classifying them as a “legal person” with “the right to appropriate and reasonable medical care and treatment.” The suggestion of fetal personhood could have legal ramifications if the measure passes.

Voters in three states will pass or reject ballot initiatives creating or solidifying abortion rights. In both California and Vermont, Democratic-controlled legislatures enacted state constitutional amendments acknowledging abortion rights and sent them on to voters for ratification. Both are expected to pass easily; California Democrats hope Prop 1 will also boost turnout for close down-ballot races.

In Michigan, a relatively late citizen-initiative drive got a Reproductive Rights for All constitutional amendment on the ballot. It will be as fiercely contested as the Kentucky vote, though a late September poll showed 64 percent support for the abortion-rights measure.

The outcome of these votes will definitely influence extensive plans for additional abortion measures in 2024, when there could be abortion-rights initiatives on the ballot in Ohio, Florida, Arizona, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Missouri.



California is one of a minority of states that haven’t yet taken advantage of a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a federal law prohibiting state-authorized sports betting. Two California initiatives would create very different regimes for legalizing this highly lucrative practice, and they have become a large presence on Golden State airwaves this fall.

Prop 26 would legalize in-person sports gambling at existing horse tracks and Indigenous-run casinos, and Native resources are being liberally deployed to back its passage. But most Indigenous groups in California are even more focused on defeating Prop 27, which would allow large online sports-betting companies to operate legally in California. Here’s the Los Angeles Timesexplanation of Prop 27:

Proposition 27 would allow licensed tribes and gambling companies, including FanDuel and DraftKings, to offer online sports betting — including on cellphones and other mobile devices. The gambling companies must be affiliated with a tribe. Both the tribes and gambling companies must pay 10% of the sports bets made every month to the state, minus expenses.

Along with covering state regulatory costs, most of the money raised would be used to address homelessness and to help people with gambling addiction problems. A smaller portion, 15%, would be given to tribes not involved in online sports betting.

While Prop 27 has attracted some progressive support as a source of revenues for battling houselessness, it is opposed by 51 of California’s 54 Indigenous groups along with both major parties and many leading unions. Opponents view it as ending a time-honored Native hegemony in legalized gambling in the state and a boon to large out-of-state companies.

Polls show both Prop 26 and Prop 27 losing badly, likely because of public confusion over their differences.



The Iowa legislature is asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment strengthening gun rights against alleged judicial restrictions. Oregon voters, however, may approve a statute strengthening state gun regulations.


Marijuana legalization

Five states could join the parade of those who have legalized recreational marijuana use, including staunchly conservative Arkansas, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota as well as Maryland. A sign of the times is a poll showing the initiative leading in Arkansas by a two-to-one margin.

Meanwhile, in pot-legalization-pioneering Colorado, a new ballot initiative would decriminalize and regulate the use of certain “natural” hallucinogenic substances (e.g., psilocybin) that have been shown to have useful medical properties.


Medicaid expansion

In the past five years, six states (Maine, Idaho, Nebraska, Utah, Missouri, and Oklahoma) have voted by citizen initiative to force adoption of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion option over the objections of Republican governors and/or legislators. It’s likely South Dakota will join the list this year and provide health insurance to 40,000 low-income citizens.


Religious freedom

Arkansas voters will have an opportunity to promote in their state constitution a doctrine that religious conservatives are advancing in Supreme Court litigation: a provision that government obligations of “general applicability” don’t justify requiring conduct repugnant to one’s religious beliefs. As the Arkansas Times explains:

The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment proposed as Issue 3 would even prohibit governmental actions to protect public health, safety, and prevent bigotry and discrimination.

Issue 3 was referred to Arkansas voters by the Arkansas legislature after lobbying by the Arkansas Family Council (the Arkansas affiliate of the national Family Research Council) in response to public health mandates implemented in 2020 to protect people from Covid infection.


Voting and elections

In 2020, Alaska voters approved a sweeping election-reform law that abolished party primaries, sent the top four primary finishers to the general election, and resolved the general election via ranked-choice voting. Now Nevada voters will have the option of initiating a similar system, though one in which the top five nonpartisan primary finishers will proceed to a ranked-choice general election.

Thanks in part to strong opposition from elected officials in both parties, public opinion has been turning against this initiative, but the vote could go either way.

Connecticut voters will decide whether to authorize early in-person voting for the first time. Michigan has a state constitutional ballot initiative creating a right to no-excuse absentee voting, a specified number in in-person early-voting days, and other voting-convenience measures. Moving in the other direction, Arizona will vote on tightening voter-ID requirements for both absentee and in-person ballots.

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Abortion, Gambling, Marijuana: 2022’s Big Ballot Initiatives