SALT LAKE CITY — If your mail-in ballot has been sitting on the kitchen counter while you hem and haw and tell yourself you’ll research the issues in your non-existent free time, you’re not alone.
Midterm elections are fast approaching on Nov. 6, so whether you plan on sending in your ballot or going to the polls on Election Day, you still have time to learn a little more about the issues you’ll vote on.
To get started on learning more about the initiatives you’ll be voting on, here’s a breakdown of everything on your ballot — from Medicaid to medical marijuana:
Proposition 2: Medical marijuana
Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently, you’ve probably heard about Proposition 2, otherwise known as the “Utah Medical Cannabis Act.”
Right now, Utah law requires the state to grow marijuana and process it into medicinal form by Jan. 1, 2019. The state must also establish a facility that will sell the medical marijuana by the beginning of next year.
Currently, marijuana can only be grown, processed or sold by the state and can only be sold to a research institution or a person who is terminally ill with less than six months to live.
Proposition 2 would change the law in two fundamental ways:
- It would allow the establishment of private facilities that grow, process, test and sell medical marijuana and require the state to regulate those facilities.
- It would establish a state-controlled process for people with certain conditions to obtain, use and, in certain cases, grow medical marijuana by March 2020.
Before you take a deep dive into researching more about this initiative, however, just know that Gov. Gary Herbert called for a special legislative session after the election so the Legislature can come together and pass a compromise agreed upon by all opposing parties.
Changes to the proposition would include how medical marijuana can be ingested, where and how it would be sold and what is considered a qualifying condition for a medical cannabis card.
"Whether it passes or fails, we're going to arrive at the same point and conclusion, which is going to be (of) benefit to the people of Utah," Herbert said during a press conference.
Basically, don’t pour too much blood, sweat and tears into this vote — medical marijuana will become more widely available, to some degree, if the Legislature passes the compromise during the special session.
Proposition 3: Medicaid expansion
Medicaid is a government-sponsored health insurance program for adults with low income, children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities. It was established by the federal government but is administered by states — and funded by both.
In the past, low-income adults also had to be either a parent, pregnant, elderly, blind or disabled to qualify for Medicaid. Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, states now have the option of expanding Medicaid’s coverage.
If Utah passes Proposition 3, three things would happen:
- Adults under the age of 65 with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (about $17,000 a year) would qualify for Medicaid on April 1, 2019.
- The existing eligibility standards, benefits and patient costs for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program would remain the same as they were beginning in January 2017.
- The state sales tax would increase from 4.7 percent to 4.85 percent to fund 10 percent of the expansion cost. The federal government would pay for the rest. The increased sales tax would not include groceries.
The expansion would most likely result in 150,000 new people enrolling in state Medicaid programs come 2020, with 5,000 more each year after, according to a study by the legislative fiscal analyst. About 20,000 more children may also enroll once their parents do so.
For: Those in agreement with the initiative say Proposition 3 brings nearly $800 million in federal funding back to the state from Washington D.C. every year — money that is already set aside for Utah. They say it will create new jobs, generate new economic activity and help those forced to choose between putting food on the table or getting healthcare.
Against: Those against this initiative say it incentivizes more spending on able-bodied adults than on the vulnerable. They claim similar expansions in other states have led to reductions in services for the disabled as state budgets are forced to increase funding for the expansion.
To learn more about this initiative, visit the state’s elections website.
Proposition 4: Redistricting
The state is divided into what are called districts, or boundaries that should hold roughly the same amount of people. Each district elects its own representatives — whether it’s representatives in Congress, the Senate, the Utah Legislature or the State Board of Education.
But as time goes on, the population of a state may change from area to area. So every 10 years, the federal government counts the population of each state and the Legislature must redefine the boundaries of the district to ensure that population counts in each are still roughly the same. This is called “redistricting.”
Proposition 4 would affect redistricting in three ways:
- It would create a seven-member commission to create redistricting plans. Utah law doesn’t currently require the involvement of a commission. If the proposition passed, seven different people in the state government would choose the seven people on the commission. Those in government would not be able to choose people who have engaged in certain political activity within a period of time.
- It would impose requirements on the redistricting process. Current law does not require the state to do anything specific. Proposition 4 would require the Legislature to accept or reject a plan that the commission submits but doesn’t prohibit it from enacting its own plans.
- It would establish rules the redistricting plans have to follow. The federal government’s main requirement is that the districts have roughly equal population. Proposition 4 would require the districts to follow other guidelines, like avoiding splitting up counties, cities and towns and following natural and geographic features to determine the boundaries.
A fiscal impact study estimates the proposition will cost a little over $1 million every ten years.
For: Those in favor of the proposition believe this will stop legislators from gerrymandering — drawing their own district boundaries in their favor.
Against: Those opposed to the proposition say that it is unconstitutional because it violates free speech, separation of powers and a portion of the Utah Constitution.
To learn more about the initiative, visit the state’s elections website.
Question 1: Funding for schools and roads
If you live along the Wasatch Front, you’ve probably seen a lot of billboards asking you to vote “yes” on Question 1.
If you’re wondering what that means, the passage of Question 1 would basically increase state motor and special fuel tax rates by an “equivalent of 10 cents per gallon” to raise more funding for public education and local roads.
Right now, the state uses $600 million of its “General Fund” to pay for transportation needs. Raising the gas tax would help fund transportation needs and leave more money for the state public education system.
To learn more about this initiative, visit the state's elections website.
You’ll also be voting on a few amendments that would change the Utah Constitution:
Constitutional Amendment A: This amendment would create a property tax exemption for someone serving out of state in the military. The Legislature voted unanimously “yes” on this amendment.
Constitution Amendment B: This amendment would allow a property tax exemption for real property that the state or local government leases from a private owner. The Legislature voted mostly “yes” on this amendment.
Constitutional Amendment C: This amendment affects how the Legislature convenes and how the governor takes action if the state exceeds its budget. The Legislature voted mostly “yes” on this amendment.
To learn more, visit the state's elections website.