By Jessica Blankenship
Oct 29, 2018 @ 4:00 pm
Photo Illustration. Photos: Getty Images

You don’t need me to tell you that the 2018 midterm elections are important. You’ve seen famous people endorse candidates and then watched the internet get pissed at them. You may have had strangers knocking on your door, stopping you on the street, or non-stop calling your cell phone urging you to vote. You probably have a handful of friends who've made it their personal mission to post hourly on Facebook about what's at stake. There’s a real “vote or you’re extremely the worst, TBH” mood in this country right now. The magnitude of the 2018 midterm elections has been so pervasively pumped into the ether that you’re probably having stress dreams about forgetting to register on time. (FYI: That deadline has passed in some states.)

So voting on November 6 is the biggest deal — you know that. But the midterms aren’t all about getting some people out of office and other kinds of people in. There are also ballot measures that can change the way we live our lives come November 7, and too many people find out about these votes by showing up to the polls and finding extra bubbles to fill in. 

Don't be that person. Ballot initiatives are important! Plus, they're often where voters have the most direct power to participate in legislative decisions that directly impact them. For example: Weed legalization, how much tampons cost, and whether or not a person can legally be discriminated against based on their gender identity — these not-insignificant topics could be appearing on a ballot near you. Keep reading to get familiar with the issues voters will be tasked with weighing in on come November 6. And then, you know, vote.  

Restricting Abortion

Let’s start with the scarier stuff. Buddy, 2018 is a truly terrifying time to have a uterus. Unsurprisingly, this year’s shitshow at the ballot box includes multiple anti-choice measures that would further restrict women’s ability to procure safe abortion care. With anti-choice accused sexual assailant Brett Kavanaugh recently confirmed to the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade, the legal precedent that has broadly protected the legality of abortions, is more actively endangered than ever.

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Alabama residents will be voting on an amendment to the state constitution that, if passed, would ensure that nothing in the state constitution would protect a woman’s right to an abortion in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned. There’s a similar amendment up for a vote in West Virginia. These are extremely scary and powerful measures, because if the Supreme Court overturns Roe (and Donald Trump promised he’d appoint new justices who would do just that, which he has done), then the power to regulate abortion is entirely in states’ hands. States with these amendments would immediately be criminalizing abortion — a.k.a. sending women to jail for it. Bottom line: Regardless of what you think about people's right to access safe and legal abortion care, the erosion of legal protections over individual medical autonomy, in general, should be disconcerting.  

The Tampon Tax

Ah yes, love to be taxed for having a body that bleeds. If you’re unfamiliar with the fight to give period products tax-exempt status, the nugget of the issue is that most “necessities” already are excluded from sales tax, and keeping a sales tax attached to tampons and pads implies that it is a luxury for women to staunch the shedding of their uterine lining.

To anyone who’s ever tried to, say, attend work or school whilst surfing the crimson wave, the notion of doing so sans tampon is almost hilarious. And then you realize that the cost of hygiene products is already prohibitive to women and girls going to school and work all over the world, and uh, it’s not so funny at all. In fact, keeping any tax barriers between a period-having person and the products they need is oppressive.

Anyway, on November 6, Nevada will vote on whether or not they will become the 15th U.S. state to ditch the tampon tax. If you live there, a “yes” vote on this measure would support the removal of sales tax on tampons and pads; a “no” vote is a great way to say “I, too, think women should have to pay extra money for a thing their body does without their control.”

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Expanding Medicaid

“Medicaid” can sound like “someone else’s problem” to young voters who still think that insuring themselves and their future kids is a concern for Future Them to deal with. Medicaid also seems to float in and out of the ears of people whose families have enough money that access to adequate and affordable healthcare has never been in jeopardy. And if that’s you, congrats on the good luck to be healthy and/or financially comfortable enough to go to the doctor! But please remember that millions of Americans can’t afford life-sustaining medication and would be catastrophically bankrupted by a single major medical event. Medicaid covers about a fifth of the people in this country, so assuming you care about the wellbeing of your fellow Americans on even the most basic level, it’s worth paying attention to what your state is or is not doing with Medicaid coverage.

All of which is to say, don’t be numb to Medicaid chatter around election time because it matters a lot to a lot of people, maybe including you.

This year, ballot measures in five states deal with two main Medicaid issues: who is eligible for coverage, and how states will pay for it. Idaho and Nebraska are voting on whether or not to expand the number of people who are eligible for coverage to account for all residents under the age of 65 and with incomes equal to or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line. This is in accordance with the Affordable Care Act. Currently, Idaho and Nebraska are two of 17 states that have not elected to adopt the Medicaid expansion. Meanwhile, Montana and Utah, which previously voted in favor of the same Medicaid expansion, will be deciding whether or not to institute a tobacco tax to cover their states’ portion of the associated costs.

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Legalizing Marijuana

OK, to be fair, getting stoned in the Year of Our Endless Suffering Two Thousand and Eighteen has transcended beyond mere recreation. At this point, it feels like we all need to be lightly sedated just to emotionally navigate the headlines every day. I mean, sure, cannabis products are also used to treat an incomprehensible range of medical and psychiatric conditions in addition to offering states an incredible source of taxable revenue, stimulating agriculture, and creating a whole lot of jobs. But also folks want to get high and that’s valid, too.

In this year’s election, North Dakota and Michigan will vote on legalizing recreational marijuana. Utah has an initiative around legalizing medical marijuana up for a vote this year, allowing people with qualifying medical conditions to get a medical marijuana card and buy cannabis products. And that’s cool but seems almost lazy compared to Missouri, which has three separate, competing medical marijuana measures on the ballot. All three amendments would legalize the use of medical marijuana, but each proposes a different sales tax (2, 4, or 15 percent) with the tax revenue allocated to a different source per each bill, with everything from veterans' services, drug treatment, education, and law enforcement, to biomedical research on the table as possible beneficiaries of the new cash flow.

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Transgender Rights

The last few years have been marked by discrimination against LGBTQ people by those in power who are absolutely livid that queer Americans are allowed to, ya know, live. The latest blow in the relentless war on the basic humanity of trans and gender non-conforming (GNC) Americans is unfolding right now, as the Trump White House considers a new policy that would legally deny the existence of any gender identity not in keeping with the one a person is assigned at birth, effectively gutting the protections that do exist for transgender and GNC people.

It is in this thoroughly terrifying and infuriating context that a referendum on the ballot in Massachusetts could potentially veto an existing law banning gender-identity discrimination. This is the law that protects transgender people’s right to use the correct bathroom and not be kicked out of places like restaurants and hotels on the pure and simple basis of bigotry and discrimination. A “yes” vote would support keeping this law and the protections it provides; a “no” vote is in favor of repealing the law, and letting discrimination run rampant.

With dangerous and dehumanizing measures coming downhill from the highest offices in our government, there’s truly no overstating the urgency and life-altering importance of not just standing for something, like, in your heart, but literally walking out of your house, showing up at your polling place, and doing the single most tangible thing you can do to help prevent our democracy from basically being eating by dragons. “I just voted!” selfies are perennially high engagement social media content, anyway. There’s truly nothing but upsides to voting — just look at all the changes at stake.