Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

How Did Immigrant-Related Ballot Measures Fare on Tuesday?

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The 2008 election results gave a decisive victory to the Democrats. At last count, President-elect Obama had 364 electoral votes to Sen. John McCain’s 163 and won by the popular vote by 7 percent. The Democrats also picked up six Senate seats (Alaska, Georgia and Minnesota have yet to be called) and at least 18 House seats. But what about those ever-famous ballot initiatives?

Back in the 2006 election, anti-immigrant ballot initiatives were the cause du jour in the West. Conservatives hoped they would help get out the base. Arizona and Colorado were the center of the storm. Four measures (Propositions 100, 102, 103, and 300) passed in Arizona, each with over 70 percent of the vote, and the two Colorado proposals (Referendums H and K) squeaked through with just over 50 percent supporting each. The roots for these initiatives can be traced back to California’s landmark Proposition 187, which in 1994 was the first public backlash against undocumented immigrants at the ballot box. Yes, it passed, but the courts did thankfully rule it unconstitutional.

This year, Missouri and Oregon joined Arizona in proposing initiatives that would affect immigrants. The results were mixed. Oregon’s Ballot Measure 58 would  have limited the use of foreign-language instruction in public schools. It was not endorsed by any major state newspaper, and 63 percent of citizens joined together in striking it down. Schools can now breathe a sigh of relief and continue to teach English as needed.

But anti-immigrant measures won elsewhere. In Missouri, a whopping 86 percent of Show Me State voters supported amending the state constitution to mandate English as the official language for public government meetings. The Kansas City Star rightfully opposed the initiative calling it “just another unwelcoming gesture to immigrants.” Following trends from previous elections, Arizona’s Proposition 202 was soundly defeated. Despite the misnomer of the Arizona Stop Illegal Hiring Act, the measure would have actually eased workforce hiring policies. With its defeat, Arizona businesses will continue to face burdensome hiring loopholes.

These results show the continuation of a patchwork policy to address nationwide immigration concerns at the state level. But ad-hoc state initiatives are not the answer. What’s really needed is comprehensive and fair federal legislation.


Jason Marczak is deputy director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council. He previously served as senior editor of Americas Quarterly and director of policy at Americas Society and Council of the Americas.

Tags: Elections, Immigration
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