As the midterms draw closer, some of the tech industry's most urgent issues and opportunities are also on the ballot. At the national level, anti-Big Tech crusaders — who just happen to be backed by Big Tech money — have made cracking down on the likes of Meta and Google key planks of their campaigns.
Meanwhile, in states across the country, ballot measures will determine the future of everything from EV funding to how gig work works, with some policies kicking in as soon as next January if they receive approval from voters.
While all eyes will be on Washington, here are some issues that smart tech leaders should be watching.
California, Proposition 30
What it does: Proposition 30 will impose a new tax on the state's ultra-wealthy to finance climate initiatives. If approved by voters, it will impose an additional 1.75% tax on Californians whose annual incomes are more than $2 million. The tax will be in place beginning next January and will come to an end in 2043; it could end sooner if the state is able to cut its emissions to 80% of 1990 levels.
Why it matters to tech: The tax is expected to generate up to $5 billion annually, with the majority of the funds going toward California’s ambitious electric vehicle plans. About 45% of the tax dollars will be spent on rebates for people, businesses, and local governments that buy electric vehicles, and 35% will be spent on expanding the EV charging network in the state. California is the leader in terms of EV adoption in the United States.
Tech executives could be among the prime targets of the tax: 44% of billionaires in California made their money from tech.
Who’s backing it: The measure is supported by the California Democratic Party, environmentalists, and, because some of the money will fund wildfire prevention, the state’s firefighter association. But its biggest backer is Lyft, which has bankrolled the yes vote, contributing $45 million out of the $47 million made to the supporting committee, according to state filings. Last month, Lyft CEO Logan Green said the tax was needed “to help turn back the clock on this existential threat,” referring to the climate crisis.
But Lyft’s support is one reason why Gov. Gavin Newsom has broken from his party in opposing Prop. 30. In a TV ad opposing the ballot measure, Newsom described Prop 30. as a “Trojan horse” initiative. “Prop. 30 has been advertised as a climate initiative. But in reality, it was devised by a single corporation to funnel state income taxes to benefit their company,” he said.
Illinois, Amendment 1
What it does: In Illinois, voters will decide on a measure that would amend the state’s constitution to include an explicit provision that employees have the right to organize and collectively bargain over wages, hours, and working conditions.
Why it matters to tech: It comes at a time when workers in companies including Amazon and Apple have started unionizing to advocate for wage increases and other improved working conditions. In April, Staten Island warehouse workers became Amazon's first unionized employees, sparking a union drive across the country. Earlier this month, workers at an Amazon warehouse in a Chicago suburb staged a walkout on Prime Day, when the ecommerce giant is especially busy.
Amendment 1 in Illinois will guarantee workers the right to organize, even as Big Tech has resorted to well-known union-busting strategies. That may be particularly important in Chicago, a city where the tech industry employs nearly a fifth of the city’s overall workforce.
Who’s backing it: The amendment is backed by many workers’ rights organizations, unions in Illinois, and the state’s Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker. “Worker safety and economic security is a fundamental right of all workers, from domestic workers to Ph.D.s,” Tim Drea, chapter president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, told a local news station. “Everybody deserves a safe workplace and economic security.”
However, local business groups warn it could make the state uncompetitive compared to its neighbors. “There’s so much going on that says we’re not business-friendly,” Todd Maisch, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, told local station WGEM. “It sends a signal that we are not serious about becoming a pro-business state.”
New York, Proposal 1
What it does: Proposal 1 is a ballot measure that will allow the state to borrow $4.2 billion to fund climate initiatives. A $3 billion bond was initially proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but it was increased under Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Why it matters to tech: If approved by voters, it could be a major opportunity for the climate tech sector. Some $1.5 billion will be used for climate change mitigation, and $1.1 billion will go to flood risk reduction. The rest will be used for land conservation and water-quality projects. The proposal will fund the upgrade of cooling centers, projects aimed at making public universities and other state-owned buildings energy efficient, and zero-emission school buses.
According to the legislation that produced the measure, “disadvantaged communities shall receive no less than thirty-five percent of the benefit of the funds.”
Who’s backing it: The “yes” campaign has received endorsements from a wide range of local climate and conservation groups including the New York Botanical Garden and Central Park Conservancy.
Washington state, Advisory 40
What it does: Voters will partake in a nonbinding advisory vote on a bill that has already been passed by the state legislature. That bill, HB 2076, set a per-trip pay floor for Uber and Lyft drivers, gave drivers paid sick leave, and prohibited surge pricing during the first seven days of an emergency declared by the governor or the president.
Why it matters to tech: Technically, HB 2076 has already passed. But because the bill levies a premium on rides in Washington, state law also requires that voters get a chance to have their say. Their vote won’t definitively determine the fate of the legislation, but will act as guidance to the legislature as to whether it should repeal or uphold the law. The outcome of the advisory vote could also be an important measure of public support, which other states may find interesting.
The legislation stands to have a big impact on the ride-hailing industry in Washington. While it stops short of classifying the drivers as full employees and will restrict local governments from formulating their own policies, the expanded rights represent a big win for advocates of ride-hail drivers.
Aside from paid sick leave, the bill sets out processes for how platforms can deactivate drivers. It also will divert 15 cents per trip to a nonprofit that will fight for the rights of drivers in disputes with the platforms. Those fees will begin in July 2024.
Who’s backing it: When the state House was debating the bill, it received support from both Uber and Lyft. Local Democrats hailed it as the “best in the nation” package for app drivers. But it was opposed by the National Employment Law Project, which said the bill did not do enough to protect the rights of drivers.
Montana, Constitutional Amendment 48
What it does: C-48 will amend Montana’s constitution to explicitly require law enforcement agencies to secure a search warrant before accessing people’s electronic data. The amendment would update the state’s constitution, which already contains protections for physical items such as paper documents and homes.
Why it matters to tech: The bill’s proponents say it will bring Montana’s statutes into the 21st century, as everyday life revolves around electronic communication. “A majority of everything we do now is electronic — our finances, our medical information, our conversations — and this amendment makes it explicit that our electronic data and communications are protected from unreasonable search and seizures from the government,” Republican state Sen. Ken Bogner, who sponsored the amendment, told NBC Montana.
Who’s backing it: The amendment has support from conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity Montana. There are no active campaigns to oppose the ballot measure, but the Senate bill that produced the measure was voted against by some Montana House Democrats. The Montana Association of Chiefs of Police also opposed it, but is not campaigning to stop it. “When it comes to handcuffing us to the point we can’t do our job and we can’t hold people accountable for their actions against people, then I have an issue with it,” Wade Nash, head of the police association, said.
Without any opposition, Montana is set to join Missouri and Michigan, which added electronic data protections to their own constitutions in 2014 and 2020, respectively.
The Arizona Senate race
Why it matters to tech: With an equal split in the Senate, Republicans are hoping to wrestle back control with the help of two tech entrepreneurs. In Arizona, Blake Masters is challenging incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly. Masters has made criticism of tech companies, especially social media platforms, a central part of his campaign right from its inception.
“The internet, which was supposed to give us an awesome future, is instead being used to shut us up,” he said in his first campaign video. “America’s future will be determined by how Congress chooses to regulate Big Tech in the coming decade,” he later wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “We must resist the domination of a corporate technocracy and chart a new course.”
Kelly has, meanwhile, his own tech bona fides, including his successful negotiation of the Chips Act, which was passed by Congress. Early signs show that the bill’s passage has led to billions in chip-related investment across the country.
Who’s backing it: Masters has received significant backing from his billionaire ally, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. Despite Thiel’s deep pockets, Kelly has raised eight times more money for his campaign than Masters and is projected to win.
The Ohio Senate race
Why it matters to tech: Just like Masters, J.D. Vance has been vocal about his criticism of social media content-moderation policies, despite his tech ties. “I know the technology industry well. I’ve worked in it and invested in it, and I’m sick of politicians who talk big about Big Tech but do nothing about it,” he wrote on his campaign website. The solution is simple: “We need to break up the big tech companies, to reduce their power in our economy and our politics.”
A Vance campaign press account was suspended by Twitter in September 2021, drawing ire from the candidate. “This is what happens when we allow five companies to control what we’re allowed to say,” he tweeted. Twitter later said the suspension, based on suspected impersonation, was an error. Vance is running against incumbent Tim Ryan and is projected to be ahead. Ryan, has in turn, branded Vance as a “Silicon Valley elitist,” referring to his opponent’s ties to Big Tech.
Who’s backing it: Vance has also received significant support from Thiel. Since Vance now looks poised to win, Thiel is reportedly redirecting his efforts to support Masters in Arizona, where he is trailing. If both or even one of Thiel’s candidates is successful in helping the GOP flip the Senate, they could add to the growing list of Big Tech’s Republican adversaries in Washington.
The Texas governor race
Why it matters to tech: The race between Beto O’Rourke and Gov. Greg Abbott is especially important because of new laws passed in Texas with Abbott’s blessing, including a wide-ranging social media content-moderation law. The law prohibits social media platforms from discriminating on the basis of viewpoint, a law that platforms argue curtails their First Amendment rights and is currently being debated in the courts.
That’s not to say O’Rourke will go easy on tech giants. During his bid for the presidency in 2019, O’Rourke said, “I think the best way to approach the fact that people have become the products on these platforms — that our privacy has been violated, that we’re confronted with 37-page user agreements — is to regulate them more seriously, and perhaps to treat them a little bit more like a utility.”
Despite his anti-Big Tech position, Abbott has also courted companies including Meta to come to Texas, which is quickly becoming a major tech hub.
Who’s backing it: Because of Abbott’s policies, it is perhaps no surprise that O’Rourke has received significant contributions from Big Tech. While the post-pandemic work environment has lured many Silicon Valley workers to move to Texas, that has not translated to support for Abbott. “It’s not surprising they do not support Gov. Abbott,” Heidi Welsh, the founding executive director of Sustainable Investments Institute told Bloomberg in March, “because they’re moving to Texas for the job, not the politics.”