Important Questions

America’s Most Important (and Wackiest) Referendums This November

Should Mainers be allowed to hunt bears with doughnuts? Will Washington gun laws get both tougher and laxer? These and other key questions will be on ballots across the U.S. next month.

Elena Scotti/The Daily Beast

The 2014 election is not just about Democrats and Republicans. In some places, it’s also about Berettas, bongs, and bear hunting.

That’s because on November 4, in addition to electing lawmakers, voters across the country will cast their ballots on a range of ballot initiatives and referendums, from controversial issues like restricting abortion and raising the minimum wage to more mundane matters like renaming the position of Montana state auditor and raising the retirement age for judges in Hawaii. Here are five of the most important, most noteworthy, and just plain goofy measures on the ballot this year.

Minimum Wage

Ballots in five states are expected to include legislation to increase the minimum wage. Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, and South Dakota all have referendums that could lead to significant increases in the wages of workers in each state. While the ballot question in Illinois is merely advisory, the other four states have binding ballot measures, and those in South Dakota and Alaska also would permanently tie the minimum wage to inflation. The efforts are getting support from organized labor and are expected to lead to increased Democratic turnout in those states, three of which—Alaska, Arkansas and South Dakota—have competitive Senate races and one of which, Illinois, has a competitive gubernatorial election.


In Alabama, voters will vote on a constitutional amendment to enshrine “the right to bear arms” in the state constitution and subject it to strict scrutiny when reviewed by the courts. Further, the amendment also makes clear that it would protect gun rights “from potential interference by international treaty and foreign law.” The real chaos is in Washington state, however where residents are voting on contradictory initiatives to make it easier and harder for residents of the Evergreen State to buy guns. One measure would require background checks on all gun purchases. The other would forbid more stringent background checks than those required by federal law. Needless to say, both are currently expected to pass.


Abortion will be on the ballot in Colorado, North Dakota, and Tennessee. In Colorado, voters will decide whether to support a controversial “personhood” amendment to the state constitution. Advocates claim the bill would simply allow criminals to be prosecuted when they cause harm to a fetus, while those against the measure say it is a back door to banning abortion. North Dakota has a less subtle constitutional amendment on the ballot stating that life begins at conception. The bill wouldn’t necessarily ban abortion because of the federal precedent of Roe v. Wade but would make it far easier for North Dakota to implement further restrictions to abortion. Tennessee voters will decide whether to approve a constitutional amendment that prevents state courts from overriding any legislation that restricts or bans abortions in the Volunteer State. But the Colorado amendment on personhood has attracted the most attention of the three measures, as it dovetails with a very competitive Senate campaign in the state that has been heavily focused on reproductive rights.


Marijuana is on the ballot in four states in November. In Oregon, voters will decide whether to join Washington and Colorado in legalizing cannabis for recreational use. In Alaska, voters will vote on whether to decriminalize the drug, and in Florida, voters will weigh on whether to allow medical marijuana. The most interesting question on the ballot is an advisory question in Washington, where marijuana is already legalized. There, voters will decide whether tax subsidies for other agricultural crops should apply to marijuana, since repealing them is technically a tax increase. The medical marijuana legislation in Florida is expected to have the most electoral impact by raising youth turnout in the Sunshine State, which is in the midst of a fiercely competitive governor’s race between Democrat Charlie Crist and Republican incumbent Rick Scott.


In November, Maine voters will vote on whether to ban using dogs, traps, and bait to hunt black bears in the Pine Tree State. The most controversial aspect of the question on the ballot is the use of bait to hunt bears, specifically old pastries and doughnuts. Opponents claim that the use of bait has caused an unsustainable increase in the state’s bear population, while supporters argue that it’s the best way to hunt the animals and manage the population spike.