NEWS BRIEFS FROM BALLOTPEDIA: Voting History Shows State Voters are Generally Unsupportive of Affirmative Action

Voters Decided on 10 Affirmative Action-related

Ballot Measures since 1996,

Opposing–8 Times and

Supporting–2 Times

In light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard, let’s look back at affirmative action as it has appeared in various ballot measures over the years.

Voters in seven states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Washington—have decided 10 ballot measures regarding affirmative action policies over the past three decades.

Voters decided against certain affirmative action policies eight times, either enacting prohibitions or rejecting measures that would have expanded its use. California was the first, prohibiting the practice in 1996, and the most recent, rejecting a measure that would have repealed the existing prohibition in 2020.

Voters decided in favor of affirmative action policies twice, in both cases defeating measures that would have prohibited certain aspects of such policies. These include one measure in California and another in Colorado.

In addition to Arizona, California, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Washington, above, Florida, Idaho, and New Hampshire had also already enacted laws prohibiting race-based affirmative action in college admissions.

This leaves 41 states and colleges therein directly affected by last week’s ruling, which held that the affirmative action admissions programs at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

After the Supreme Court issued its Dobbs ruling last year, overturning Roe v. Wade and sending abortion regulations back to each state, we saw a record-setting six abortion-related measures on the ballot in 2022:

  • Voters in California, Michigan, and Vermont established constitutional rights to abortions;
  • Voters in Kansas and Kentucky rejected measures that would have allowed the state to prohibit abortions; and,
  • Voters in Montana rejected a measure called the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act.

Currently, there is one affirmative action-related measure pending in Arizona.

Earlier this year, state senators there approved a constitutional amendment prohibiting any governmental entity from implementing an affirmative action policy regarding hiring, promoting, or admitting applicants to a school or position of employment. If it receives a majority vote in the state House, it will appear on the 2024 ballot.

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