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Voters Decided 10 Affirmative Action-related Ballot Measures Since 1996

Voters decided 10 affirmative action-related ballot measures since 1996, opposing the practice eight times, & supporting it twice.

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 California was the first, prohibiting the practice in 1996, and the most recent, rejecting a measure that would have repealed the existing prohibition in 2020.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.

Participants march and chant slogans at a rally protesting the Supreme Court’s ruling against affirmative action on Harvard University Campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the United States, on July 1, 2023. The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that race-conscious admissions policies used by colleges and universities are unconstitutional, in a pair of cases involving Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Supreme Court stated that the admissions policies of Harvard and the University of North Carolina UNC, two of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the country, violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. (ZIYU JULIAN ZHU/XINHUA/GETTY)Ziyu Julian Zhu/Xinhua via Getty Images) 

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.


Produced in association with Ballotpedia

Edited by Jessi Rexroad Shull and Kyana Jeanin Rubinfeld

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