The 2022 midterms are officially over. Well, sorta. An unfortunate runoff election in Georgia means we may have to wait a month to understand who truly wields power in Congress. For our purposes here at Gizmodo, though, we wanted to take a quick look at how the midterms may have impacted technology. In addition to hotly contested politcal races, this election cycle saw voters decide on a variety of ballot initiatives, including some that could have big impacts on everything from internet access to police surveillance to clean energy to your local Uber driver. Here’s a quick look at what went down in states where tech was on the ballot.
Probably the weirdest and messiest tech-related initiative on the ballot this year was California’s Prop 30, otherwise known as the Clean Cars and Clean Air Act. The initiative promised to impose a 1.75% personal income tax hike on the state’s highest-earning residents—or people making above $2 million. From that, the state hoped to generate some $3.5 to $5 billion per year to help bolster its environmental programs. The money would have been used to subsidize zero-emission vehicles and expand clean air and wildfire response and prevention efforts.
On its face, this seemed like something that Cali’s predominantly blue voters would be pretty interested in. I mean, taxing millionaires to fund electric car production? Sounds like an agenda that any bleeding-heart liberal would be in favor of. But it’s more complicated than that.
What happened: It failed to pass.
California voters rejected the measure by a pretty considerable margin, voting 59 percent to 41 percent, according to the New York Times.
The initiative was controversial for a number of reasons and brought out some weird alliances between groups that would’ve otherwise been considered political enemies. On one side, the measure was supported by numerous Democrats, environmental activists and, weirdly, Lyft, which generously threw over $45 million at the effort. Meanwhile, critics of the measure included California’s own governor, Gavin Newsom, the state’s teachers union, and a bunch of local plutocrats who naturally didn’t want to pay more in taxes. Critics said that the bill was just a handout to the rideshare industry (maybe Lyft thought that, too) and that taxpayers would be subsidizing the production of electric vehicles (which carmakers are now mandated to produce in the state) that companies like Lyft and Uber should’ve been paying for. Meanwhile, proponents of the bill criticized Newsom for criticizing the bill, claiming his real motivation was to protect his biggest donors and wealthy political allies.
In Montana, voters were asked whether they wanted to amend the state constitution to limit any creepy data collection activities by police. The change would redefine “electronic data and communications” as the kind of private property that is constitutionally protected from unreasonable search and seizure, thus forcing state and local law enforcement to secure court-ordered warrants before accessing data on personal devices. Currently, cops basically abide by these rules already, but no statute mandates it. Only two other states currently offer such protections—Michigan and Missouri.
What happened: It passed.
By a pretty significant margin—82 percent to 18, according to current vote tallies—Montanans voted to pass this amendment. That’s probably because it endured virtually no opposition within the state and was weirdly championed by a slew of rightwing libertarian organizations, like Americans for Prosperity Montana. I guess Ayn Rand wouldn’t have approved of digital search and seizures either!
Advisory 40 in Washington State: Affirming That Uber Drivers Should Not Be Treated Like Total Shit, Sorta
Uber and Lyft really want you to know they care. After a globe-spanning campaign to sabotage regulations that would classify their ride-share drivers as employees (a designation that would have entitled workers to a variety of benefits and protections they currently lack), the companies tried to make themselves look like the good guys and graciously backed HB 2076 in Washington state last year. The bill, which was passed by the state legislature, offer some watered-down protections to drivers like a “minimum earnings guarantee,” worker’s compensation coverage, and the ability to earn paid sick leave, though it would codify drivers’ status as contractors rather than employees.
This year, voters had the opportunity to vote on a non-binding resolution that would’ve reaffirmed HB 2076. This affirmation, called Advisory 40 or the “Transportation Network Companies Tax” question, asked voters if they would rather support or repeal the recently passed bill.
What happened: Voters said no to the advisory.
The New York Times reports that about 53 percent of voters in the state voted to repeal the advisory, while some 47 percent voted to keep it. There hasn’t been much analysis on what motivated the electorate to vote that way. Nevertheless, the bill was non-binding, meaning that it’s not clear that the legislature will necessarily support what people voted for anyway.
As bizarre as it may sound, there are still a huge amount of people in this country who don’t have reliable access to the internet. Actually, about 7 percent of the population say they don’t use the internet at all. For most of these people—especially those in rural and tribal communities—not using the web isn’t a choice so much as a lack of existing infrastructure. Since the web runs on expensive equipment like optical fibers and coaxial cables, the physical infrastructure doesn’t always make it up to the remotest areas of the country.
Amendment 2 in Alabama would amend the state’s constitution to allow taxpayer money to be funneled to private companies in the form of grants to provide for the creation of broadband internet.
What happened: It passed.
Turns out, people in Alabama want to use the internet! The state voted by a pretty overwhelming majority (over 78 percent) to pass the amendment, the Associated Press reports.
- What’s going to happen with crypto? If you hadn’t noticed, the cryptocurrency industry is sorta fucked lately. This week’s FTX meltdown aside, the price of bitcoin has dropped to its lowest rate in awhile and the crypto winter of summer now appears to be turning into the crypto winter of winter. To stave off further decline, the industry threw a lot of money at the 2022 elections—some $73 million—seeming to hope that whoever came out on top in Congress would help at least clear up some of the regulatory clouds that seem to be constantly lurking over token-holders’ heads. In particular, crypto companies want to see two pieces of legislation get passed. One of those bills would write exemptions for crypto firms into securities and tax laws, while the other seeks to control how regulators could police the industry’s big boys, ETH and BTC. Republicans have been notably more web3-friendly than Dems. If the GOP manages to claw both the House and the Senate away from Democrats, we might see movement on these issues.
- Uh, how is Peter Thiel doing these days? His decision to divert his attention from tech and finance into the world of politics doesn’t necessarily seem to be bearing the kind of fruit he wanted. One of the candidates he backed with millions in donations, J.D. Vance, won an Ohio Senate seat on Tuesday. However, Thiel’s other major deputy, Blake Masters, the former COO of the investment firm Thiel Capital, is losing his race for an Arizona Senate seat as of Thursday morning, but the contest hasn’t been called yet.
- Also, will social media face any sort of regulation anytime soon? Let’s be honest, the answer is: probably not. Still, the GOP has been telling anybody who will listen about the vile ways of big tech platforms’ leftwing bias. A number of Republican candidates—including J.D. Vance and Blake Masters—ran on promises to reform social media platforms with additional regulation. Will anti-tech rightwingers make good on their promises to kick Silicon Valley where it hurts or does it not really matter now that Twitter has gone pro-GOP?