Giving Thanks for Ballot Measure Wins


Leslie Barnes, Natalie Roetzel Ossenfort, Tim Mooney


Tis the season for giving thanks, and we here at the Rules of the Game podcast are immensely grateful for the amazing work done by nonprofits across the country to advocate on behalf of ballot measures during the midterm elections. On this episode, we’ll highlight several noteworthy wins. From protecting reproductive rights to expanding education access for Dreamers, it was truly a remarkable year for rallying public support and seizing policy wins at the ballot box.  

Our Attorneys for This Episode:

Leslie Barnes Natalie Roetzel Ossenfort Tim Mooney

Ballot Measures: A Quick Review of the Rules

  • Yes, 501(c)(3) public charities CAN support/oppose ballot measures (including ballot initiatives, bond proposals, constitutional amendments, etc.) 
    • Public charities can lobby (within their lobbying limits) 
    • Advocacy for or against a measure = lobbying 
      • The public is a legislator in the ballot measure context 
      • Under the insubstantial part test, ballot measure advocacy = lobbying. 
      • Using the 501(h) election, ballot measure advocacy = DIRECT lobbying. 
  • Different rules for private foundations, which should NOT engage in ballot measure advocacy due to prohibitive excise tax, but can take advantage of lobbying exceptions and use general support grants and specific project grant safe-harbors to support the work of their grantees 
  • 501(c)(4)s can engage in nonpartisan as well as partisan ballot measure work, but partisan work should remain a secondary activity of the organization 
  • Regardless of what type of tax-exempt org you may work for, also keep in mind state / local law, which may require reporting of ballot measure activities and expenditures 

Big Wins!

  • Arizona Proposition 308 
    • Championed by Mi Familia Vota, Unidos US, Arizona Community Foundation, and more! 
    • Grants undocumented Arizona high school graduates the ability to obtain in-state college tuition prices and gets rid of Prop 300, which passed with 71% of vote in 2006 and banned state benefits for undocumented persons
  • Measure 26-228 in Portland, Oregon
    • Championed by Coalition of Communities of Color (Unite Oregon, Latino Network, Muslim Educational Trust, Imagine Black, NAYA Family Center, Pacific Islander & Asian Family Center, LWV Portland, etc.
    • Expands City Council – Creates four City Council districts with three councilors each and ends City Councilmembers managing day-to-day city services and operations. 
  • Emancipation on the Ballot  
  • Michigan Proposal 3 (aka Reproductive Freedom for All Proposal) 
    • Establishes new independent right to reproductive freedom in state constitution and invalidates conflicting state laws 
    • Allows state to regulate abortion after fetal viability, but not if abortion is necessary for patient’s physical or mental health 
    • Supported by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, ACLU of Michigan, Michigan Voices, and others 
    • Similar wins in California and Vermont. VT’s Proposal 5 won with 72% of the vote! Abortion rights now enshrined in VT constitution. It was supported by groups like ACLU of VT, LWV VT, Alliance for a Better VT and more. 
  • Michigan Proposal 2 (Expanding Voting Access)
    • Championed by ACLU of Michigan, NAACP Michigan State Conference, and League of Women Voters of Michigan 
    • Changes voting policies in Michigan, including requiring nine days of early voting, authorizing absentee ballot drop boxes, and allowing voters without photo ID to sign an affidavit verifying their identity. 
  • DC Initiative 82 
    • Championed by DC Committee to Build a Better Restaurant Industry, National Center for Lesbian Rights, DC for Democracy, National Employment Law Project 
    • Once again the voters are eliminating the sub-minimum tipped wage, and all servers and bartenders that were under this system will be moved into full minimum wage over the course of the next few years.