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What are Americans voting for on November 3?

  • Published at 12:18 pm October 30th, 2020
US election 2020
A man sanitizes a privacy booth to fight the spread of coronavirus at a polling station opened for early voting, in New York City on October 25, 2020 Reuters

The pandemic, as well as an extraordinary level of enthusiasm, has prompted Americans to vote early in unprecedented numbers

From wolves to magic mushrooms, on November 3 Americans will have their say on far more than just whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden will take control of the White House. 

State flags and control of Congress -- and the fate of dozens of lawmakers along with it -- are also on the ballot, plus more in some states. Here is where those issues stand. 

Putting history to the vote

Voters in Mississippi will cast their ballot for a new state flag featuring a magnolia tree, after the old one -- which bore the emblem of the Confederacy -- was retired over the summer, as the US exploded with the biggest protests in decades against racism and police brutality.

Voters in the Southern state, which fought on the side of slavery in the Civil War in the 1860s, will have to decide whether to adopt the new flag as their state emblem or find another. 

Meanwhile voters in the smallest of the 50 US states -- officially called the "State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" -- will be asked whether they are willing to shorten the name to remove the reference to the large slave estates. 

In 2010, they were asked the same question, and refused.

California driving reform?

California voters will answer a question that could upend the whole gig economy: Are Uber and Lyft drivers actually employees of the Silicon Valley behemoths, or are they independent contractors?

The tech giants have injected millions of dollars to persuade voters to side with them and overturn a law which became effective this year requiring the ride-sharing companies to pay drivers minimum wage and to give them vacation time and unemployment benefits. 

Californians will also have to decide on a revolutionary change to the criminal justice system: should the cash bail system be replaced by a new state law in which judges would assess the risk of allowing defendants to remain in society?

Those for the shift argue that the current system of cash bail penalizes defendants who cannot afford to pay. But others say it endangers a flourishing bail industry and could increase the number of people behind bars.

Paid sick leave

Eight states and the city of Washington have already granted the right to paid sick leave to their residents without going through the ballot box. 

Colorado, however, is asking voters to consider creating the right to up to 12 weeks of paid sick leave, funded by a payroll tax.

Americans are not usually keen on such measures, but the coronavirus pandemic may have changed their views.

The wolves of Colorado

Also, in Colorado -- if residents answer "yes" to Proposition 114 -- its Parks and Wildlife Commission will have to plan by 2023 for an arrangement to reintroduce gray wolves, which disappeared from the state in the 1940s. 

The idea, according to the Colorado Sun, is that doing so will provide a bridge between gray wolf populations in the north and south of the country, helping the species rebound.

But farmers, ranchers and big game hunters are wary, the Sun says.

High turnout

Like others before them, voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota are being asked to vote on legalizing recreational marijuana in their states.  

And the very conservative state of Mississippi is for the time asking voters if they are content to legalize the drug for medicinal use.

Meanwhile Oregon residents will be asked whether certain psychedelic "magic" mushrooms can be used to treat mental health issues such as depression -- and voters in the national capital, Washington, could decriminalize their use.


Louisiana residents will decide whether to amend their state's constitution to add language stating that it offers no protection for the right to abortion or funding for abortion. 

Critics say the Bible Belt state is preparing for a possible reversal of the US Supreme Court 1973 ruling which declared that Americans have the right to an abortion. 

The US Senate has just confirmed the third justice chosen by Donald Trump to the court, raising conservative hopes that Roe v Wade could finally be undone.

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