From Florida to Oregon: State referendums youll want to follow on Election Day

by Brian Johnson

November 3, 2014

With less than 24 hours till voting, well spare you another analysis of which party will take the Senate and bring you something youve likely heard less about: the large number of state referendums on environmental issues. Greenpeace scoured the ballots. Heres what youll want to know.


Why not call something what it is? Thats the question before voters in Oregon and Colorado, who will decide whether to label foods for containing GMOs (genetically modified foods). The push comes from two lines of reasoning. One is consumers right to know what goes into their food, just as they can already see sugar or salt levels from nutrition labels.

The other is environmental. Many GMOs are designed to weather heavy pesticide use, which harms soils, farmers, and as Greenpeace has highlighted, wildlife like bees.

Bees and GMOs

Maine and Connecticut paved the way for GMO labelsin their legislatures. Other states have tried to implement labeling, only to run against massive resistance from corporations like Monsanto, which produces GMO seeds. GMO labels have at least one corporate supporter this election–Chipotle, which has backed the Colorado prop.

Of gray wolves and bears

A big election for our animal friends.First in Michigan, where the state recently overturned a hunting ban on gray wolves. Interestingly, the two ballot measures on the issue wont decide the hunting status of the wolves–at least immediately. The state legislature removed that decision from the realm of referendums. But pro-wolf voters should still get out the vote, say advocates, as the cause will need a strong showing to take the issue to court.

Then to Maine, where a ballot initiative would constrain Maines superlatively lax regulations on bear hunting methods. Tactics include hound chases, bear traps, and baiting bears with treats like doughnuts. Who gives away doughnuts anyway?

Getting out the vote

Head to Illinois, where voters will consider whether to prohibit any law that disproportionately prevents certain citizen groups from voting, including on the basis of race, class, or sexual orientation.

Whats that got to do with the environment? The key word here is disproportionately.Progressives and non-progressives alike recognize that the more residents vote, the more likely our nation will elect leaders that side with people, not polluters.

That doesnt sit well with some corporations, which would rather stick with politicians who take their money and pass polluting laws, as well as measures against workers rights and economic equality.

The result has been voter ID laws, legislation that purports to stop voter fraud, but in fact wraps red tape around the voting process for communities of color, low-income residents and other pesky groups that powerful interests would rather not deal with.

A name to watch out for in this space is the American Legislative Exchange Council (aka ALEC). This corporate lobby group, whose members include Exxon, Shell, and Peabody coal, has pushed voter ID laws across the States, including in Illinois.

Next election: A 51st state?

If you cant beat em, make your own state. So said the city of South Miami, which proposed that the southern 24 counties of Florida form a new state, South Florida. The reason? South Miami is fed up with the states lack of action on climate change, which threatens Floridas lower-lying south with rising sea levels.

Indeed, Floridas southern half sits more than 70 feet closer to sea level, on average, than the north. Many parts of the south lie less than 5 feet above sea level.

South Miamis excellent points dont make its resolution so. To make the new state, the resolution would need passage in a state referendum and get approval from Congress. Plus theres the paramount issue of what South Floridas nickname would be. The New State?

What referendums are happening in your state? Check out Ballotpedia, which helped in the research for this story.

Brian Johnson

By Brian Johnson

Brian is a campaigner with Greenpeace's Climate and Energy Team. Follow him @BFWJohnson.

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