Change in the Status Quo: Progressive Ballot Measures of 2020

Sydney Wold, Reporter

November 3rd, 2020 will go down in American history as one of the most influential election days. Not only did the presidential election and a series of local elections occur, but many progressive measures were on the ballot for several states. Some of the most interesting issues voters polled on included the reintroduction of gray wolves in Colorado national parks, ranked choice voting, and the status of controlled substances including marijuana and psilocybin. 

The first measure, and the least polarizing of the three, is the reintroduction of gray wolves in Colorado. According to Ballotpedia, Proposition 114 would require “the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to create a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves on designated lands.” This measure intends to restore the gray wolf population which was decimated by predator control programs and habitat degradation in the 1900’s. 

This bill is a step in the right direction for resolving an issue that has gone unrecognized by many animal rights groups because wolves are considered a threat to endangered species and livestock. To those activists the overexertion wrought by uncontrolled populations of deer, elk, and moose has likely dealt significant damage to the ecosystems where endangered species and livestock reside, perhaps more damage than wolves. We need to stop playing God with nature, whether it be in self-interest or because we believe we’re doing the right thing. The only exception to this should be the reintroduction of a species to its original habitat.

Yellowstone National Park is a shining example of reintroduction gone right. After fully eradicating gray wolves, Yellowstone experienced a decline in biodiversity among its plant and animal species. Small trees, shrubs, several mammals, and bird species all suffered from elk overabundance. It was only when wolves were reintroduced that biodiversity was restored. A portion of the environmental damage caused by overgrazing was reversed. Colorado voters passed the bill by a small margin, but any victory in this movement is nothing to scoff at. 

Another measure on the ballot was ranked choice voting in Alaska and Massachusetts. Alaska, as of November 10th, is still counting its votes, but Massachusetts didn’t pass the bill. suspects Question 2 wasn’t passed because ranked choice voting came off as confusing and complex. To test this claim, I conducted my own research to see if it is really as complex as its critics claim. 

According to Time, ranked choice voting is the process in which a person votes for multiple candidates in order of preference. How does it work? A voter will take their ballot and write in their first choice, then second choice, third choice, etc. for a position. The candidate with the majority of the vote, or 50%, wins. The step that occurs when no candidate gets a majority is the most criticized aspect of ranked choice voting, for good reason. If no candidate receives a majority vote, the candidate that performed the worst is eliminated and their votes are redistributed to their second choice. That process continues until there’s a candidate with the majority. 

To be blunt, ranked choice voting is confusing. I spent twice as much time researching it than I did writing about it, but during that research, I discovered its many pros. Andrew Yang, a former democratic presidential candidate for the 2020 election, lists some of these pros as a “higher voter turnout, better capturing of voter preference, and less negative campaigning.”  Once the initial hurtle of confusion is passed, ranked choice voting stands out as a reasonable replacement for the electoral college. Just keep in mind there’s still plenty of debate surrounding ranked choice voting, as only Maine has implemented it. There are plenty of discoveries to be made in the future. 

The status of drugs such as marijuana and psilocybin were among the most highly debated measures. Arizona, New Jersey, Montana all voted to legalize recreational use of marijuana, Mississippi voted to legalize medical marijuana, and South Dakota voted to legalize both forms of use. All measures on legalization and decriminalization passed.

The legalization of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes is a move that may positively impact the state and the people. It should not be forgotten marijuana is a drug; like alcohol and tobacco, users may develop an addiction or complications with the heart, brain, or lungs if used in the long term. It’s not my intent to minimize these consequences, but new research about marijuana has brought about a wave of benefits for states which legalize or decriminalize it.

In legal states, the government can tax marijuana, which creates an additional source of revenue. Medicinal use can reduce pain and inflammation and can treat conditions such as arthritis or anxiety. Though marijuana is addictive, it could replace even more addictive and lethal opiate pain-killers when treating chronic pain disorders. State prisons and the criminal justice system also benefit with marijuana legalization with reduced incarceration and recidivism rates, as well as lower tax spending as prisons have fewer incarcerees to supervise. 

 Psilocybin-producing mushrooms and fungi products, or magic mushrooms, have been legalized for psilocybin therapy in Oregon. Similar to marijuana, magic mushrooms have their consequences, but certain doses have been shown to treat depression, anxiety, and end-stage cancer. They are not addictive, which makes psilocybin therapy a possible alternative to antidepressants. 

Oregon has also decriminalized the personal, non-commercial possession of controlled substances to a Class E violation, which consists of a $100 fine and if warranted, rehabilitative care. Marijuana revenue and state prison savings will fund the rehabilitative programs. If this measure is paired with fines that go back into the community through social programs This movement to decriminalize certain drugs and reinforce social programs, could change the way we approach drug addiction in our society. As more states seek to decriminalize drugs, further data will detail the true effects of such approaches to legalization and decriminalization. 

It should be clear from the rising incarceration and drug addiction numbers that the way we’re currently handling issues regarding drugs is not working. It’s also clear from these other issues, such as gray wolves and ranked choice voting, that Americans are attempting to remedy  the issues plaguing their towns, cities, and states. Regardless of one’s opinion on these issues, the results of the 2020 ballot measures across the country demonstrate that Americans want change and the best way to summon that change is to vote on these matters.