Election 2020

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Here is a quick look at the November 2020 elections from a libertarian or classical liberal point of view.

I skip over the contest between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, which, as I write, is leaning Biden’s way but is not decided. Many other things have effectively been decided, though the results cited here are not official. A few could change; most of them won’t.

Libertarian Party. LP presidential nominee Jo Jorgensen’s 1.1% nationwide was a two-thirds drop from the record 3.28% by LP nominee Gary Johnson in 2016. Of course Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, was a professional politician, and Jorgensen was not. Jorgensen’s showing was better than that of any other LP candidacy in the past 48 years, including Johnson’s showing in 2012. She handily beat all of this year’s other minor-party nominees, for what that is worth.

The pattern of Libertarian presidential votes is much the same as in previous elections. Strongest were the “red” states near the Canadian border, led by Alaska, 2.6%, North Dakota, 2.6%, South Dakota, 2.6%, and Montana, 2.4%. Other northern-border states with above-average Jorgensen returns are Idaho, 1.8%; New Hampshire, 1.8%; Maine 1.7%; and Washington, 1.5%.

Jorgensen also did relatively better in a group of interior “red” states: Nebraska, 2.1%, Kansas, 2.1%, Utah, 2.1%; Indiana, 2.0%; Wyoming, 2.0; and Oklahoma, 1.5%. Her worst showings were in Mississippi, 0.6%, and in New Jersey and the District of Columbia, both 0.5%.

National marijuana legalization has a way to go, but the uphill climb is over.

Voters decided a number of state ballot measures, some of them in ways libertarians should like. Here are some highlights:

Racial Preferences. In 1996, California was first in the nation to ban racial and gender preferences in state jobs, contracting, and education. Progressives have itched to roll that back ever since, and this year they gave it a try with Proposition 16. Voters turned thumbs-down on “affirmative action” with a 56% no vote — an important result in a state that is only 37% non-Latino white and that voted 65% for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. One reason is opposition from Asian Americans, now 15% of California’s population.

Guns. Not much this year on a cause the Democrats have mostly avoided. With a 51% vote, Montana approved LR-130, removing local governments’ authority to regulate firearms, including concealed carry.

Drugs. Marijuana legalization passed in four states, Arizona (Proposition 207, 60%), Montana (Initiative 190, 57%), New Jersey (Public Question 1, 67%) and South Dakota (Amendment A, 53%). “Heading into election day, 11 states had legalized marijuana for adults 21 and over, and 34 states had legalized medical marijuana,” writes the Marijuana Policy Project. “Now there are 15 legalization states and 36 medical marijuana states in the country.”

National marijuana legalization has a way to go, but the uphill climb is over. Oregon, which passed medical marijuana in 1998 and general legalization in 2014, widened the scope of its laws on psychoactive substances. With 56% yes, voters passed Measure 109, sponsored by the Oregon Psilocybin Society, which legalizes the medical use of psilocybin mushrooms. Three US cities had already decriminalized psilocybin: Oakland and Santa Cruz, California, and Ann Arbor, Mich.

With 59% yes, Oregon voters also passed Measure 110, which would make possession of small amounts of illegal drugs (ecstasy, LSD, psilocybin, oxycodone, methadone, cocaine, heroin, and methampetamine) punishable with a $100 fine instead of criminal prosecution. The Drug Policy Alliance, backed by George Soros, spent some $4 million promoting Measure 110, with additional help from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the ACLU. Supporters of legalization far outspent supporters of prohibition, who argued that they needed criminal penalties to push users into treatment.

Privacy. Voters tend to support measures that safeguard their privacy. In California, they passed with a 56% yes vote Proposition 24, a measure to strengthen a law passed in 2018. The new law removes the ability of businesses to avoid penalties if they fix violations. It empowers consumers to order businesses not to share personal information and to correct inaccurate information. It forbids the collection of data from consumers under 13 without parental permission. It also creates the California Privacy Protection Agency to enforce the data-privacy law.Michigan voters approved Proposal 2, which requires a search warrant for police to get personal electronic data. The yes vote on this was 89%.

As usual, voters tended to reject tax increases on people like them but approve increases on people not like them.

Abortion. On abortion, an issue that divides libertarians, Americans were similarly divided. Colorado voters rejected (59% no) Proposition 115, which would prohibit abortion after the 22nd week. Louisiana voters approved (62% yes) a constitutional amendment stating that there is no right to abortion or state-funded abortions in their constitution.

Labor. Voters don’t like measures that they think deny choice and opportunity. The big example of this was a California law signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, Democrat, treating drivers for Uber, etc., as ordinary employees for purposes of labor law rather than independent contractors. The app-based driver companies said that doing this would shut down their industry.The leading companies, Uber, DoorDash, Lyft, Instacart, and Postmates, together spent more than $200 million to support Proposition 22, which would repeal the state law and keep drivers as independent contractors. The California Labor Federation and several large unions — the Service Employees (SEIU), the Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and Teamsters — spent about a tenth of that amount defending the state law. Prop 22 passed with 58% of the vote, a result the Los Angeles Times called “a clear rebuke of criticisms leveled against the companies by liberal Democrats and organized labor.”

Free-market economists have long argued that minimum wage laws also deny choice and opportunity, but voters tend to think otherwise. When put on the ballot, minimum-wage measures usually win. This has now happened in Florida, where 60% of voters passed Amendment 2, increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026.Similarly, Colorado voters passed (57% yes) Proposition 118, setting up a state program for 12-week paid family and medical leave, funded through a 50-50 payroll tax similar to Social Security and Medicare.

Property Rights. California voters rejected (60% no) Proposition 21, which would have expanded local governments’ powers to impose rent control on private housing. The measure’s sponsor, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation of Los Angeles, spend $40 million to promote it, but the California Business Roundtable and a group of real estate companies spent more than twice that amount to kill it. It died — yet another measure in left-leaning California that didn’t lean left.

Taxes. As usual, voters tended to reject tax increases on people like them but approve increases on people not like them. This is generally true of “blue” states as well as “red” ones.

In “blue” Colorado, they voted 57% yes on Proposition 116, which cut the state’s flat-rate income tax on all taxpayers from 4.63% to 4.55%. In “blue” Illinois, after each side spent more than $60 million on campaigns, voters rejected the Graduated Income Tax Amendment to replace the state’s flat-rate tax, voting 55% no. But in borderline-blue Arizona, they voted 53% yes on Proposition 208, which raised the state’s 4.5% income tax by 3.5 percentage points for a couple with income of $500,000 or more.

Deep-blue California had what the Los Angeles Times called “a historic political battle” over Proposition 15. This would have amended the famous Proposition 13, passed back in 1978, which limited property taxes. Proposition 15 would have kept the limit for owners of homes and farms, but not general commercial properties. Supporters, including the Service Employees, the California Federation of Teachers, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, spent $67 million to increase property taxes on business. Opponents, including the California Business Roundtable, California Business Properties Association, and California Taxpayers Association, spent $72 million. The opponents won, as Californica voted 52% “no.”

Smokers continue to be an easy target of tax raisers. In Oregon, which used to be a low-tax state for tobacco, voters passed Measure 108, increasing the tax on cigarettes from $1.33 a pack to $3.33. The measure imposes new taxes on inhalants and taxes cigars up to $1 each. Colorado voters approved Proposition EE, increasing the tax on cigarettes from 84 cents a pack to $2.64 by 2027, also creating a tax on e-cigarettes. The Oregon measure passed with a 66% vote; the Colorado measure, with 68%.

Elections. Election reforms tended to pass if they seemed fair and easy to understand. Two states, Florida and Colorado, changed constitutional language that “every citizen” had the right to vote to “only a citizen,” which opponents argued was anti-immigrant. In Florida, which has a very large Hispanic population, this was called Amendment 1; it needed 60% yes and got 79%. In Colorado, also with substantial numbers of Hispanic people, it was called Amendment 76; it needed 55% and got 63%.

It died — yet another measure in left-leaning California that didn’t lean left.

California voters approved (59% yes) Proposition 17, which restores the right to vote to felons on parole. California voters nixed (55% no) Proposition 18, which would have allowed 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they would be 18 by the general election.

In Colorado, 52% of voters approved Proposition 117, which requires any new state enterprises with projected revenues of $100 million to be approved by a vote of the people.

Regarding the Electoral College, Colorado passed Proposition 113, 52% yes, joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. The compact is an agreement among states to cast their electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote. It would take effect when states with 270 electoral votes accept it. By adding its 9 electoral votes, Colorado increases the total to 205. The compact, which is an attempt to negate the Electoral College without a constitutional amendment, has not been ruled upon by the US Supreme Court.

Regarding state primary elections, 57% of Florida voters approved Amendment 3, which would set up a top-two primary like those of California and Washington. As a constitutional amendment, Amendment 3 required 60% approval and therefore failed.

Two more exotic election reforms failed. In Massachusetts, 54% of voters rejected Question 1, to use ranked-choice voting in state elections. And in Alaska, 57% rejected Ballot Measure 2, which would have created a top-four primary with ranked-choice voting.

Energy. In Nevada, 56% of voters backed Question 6, which would require electric utilities to get half their power from renewable sources, including solar, wind, and hydro, by 2030. This is the second approval for the 50% requirement, which needed to be passed twice to become part of the state constitution. I suspect this means Nevada utilities will have to buy a lot of out-of-state hydro. (Fine with me; I live in a state that sells it.)

Symbols. In Mississippi, 70% of voters approved Ballot Measure 3, which authorized a new state flag, which would have “In God We Trust” but not the Confederate battle flag. The Stars and Bars will be replaced by a white flower.

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