12 of the Weirdest Ballot Initiatives in American History

hermosawave/iStock via Getty Images
hermosawave/iStock via Getty Images

It’s Election Day, where democracy gets a workout and where non-felons can exercise their free will to decide who gets to sit in comfortable appointed chairs. It’s also a time when voters are faced with occasionally ridiculous decisions courtesy of ballot initiatives, where private citizens who have collected enough signatures can offer up proposals for immediate resolution. Here are some of the strangest questions that have been put to voters.

1. SHOULD WE PROHIBIT TOXIC WASTE IN OUR DRINKING WATER?

“As usual, California voters are being presented with many citizen initiatives…Still another would forbid toxic-waste discharge into drinking water. It is being opposed by the industry, which claims the definition of ‘toxic’ is too broad.”

-- Park City Daily News, October 23, 1986 (Approved)

2. SHOULD A POLICE OFFICER GET TO WALK HIS BEAT WITH A VENTRILOQUIST'S DUMMY?

“Along with school vouchers, sales taxes and city charter revisions, voters in San Francisco will decide next Tuesday whether to allow a veteran police officer to walk his beat with a ventriloquist's dummy….Brendan O'Smarty, he of the laughing Irish eyes, whom Officer Geary picked out of a ventriloquist's catalogue after he was selected to work in a community policing program that encouraged officers to use 'creative and ingenious methods' to break down barriers between citizens and police. The hand-carved dummy cost $1,750 because Officer Geary wouldn't hear of the $700 molded particle board version.” (via @ClaraJeffery)

-- The New York Times, October 30, 1993  (Approved)

3. SHOULD WE GIVE $1 MILLION TO ONE RANDOM VOTER?

“A proposal to award $1 million in every general election to one lucky resident, chosen by lottery, simply for voting — no matter for whom — has qualified for the November ballot. Mark Osterloh, a political gadfly who is behind the initiative, the Arizona Voter Reward Act, is promoting it with the slogan, ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Vote!’"

-- The New York Times, July 17, 2006 (Defeated)

4. SHOULD WE TAKE OVER THE GRAND CANYON?

“When voters in Arizona go to the polls next month, they will be asked to decide a land ownership tug of war: Should the Grand Canyon belong to all Americans, or just the residents of Arizona?... A controversial ballot measure backed by Republicans in the state legislature is seeking sovereign control over millions of acres of federal land in the state, including the Grand Canyon.”

-- Reuters, October 23, 2012 (Defeated)

5. SHOULD DENVER SET UP A COMMISSION TO TRACK ALIENS?

“…an eccentric proposal was also rejected in the polls when voters in Denver opted against an initiative to track aliens from outer space. The proposal, known as initiative 300, would have involved setting up a commission to monitor aliens and a website to allow members of the public to report UFO sightings.”

-- The Guardian, November 3, 2010

6. SHOULD WE LET ROXIE THE MINIATURE PIG STAY?

“Roxie the potbellied pig will be moving to a new home now that Piqua voters have said she has worn out her welcome. Cynthia and Tim Gaston and their two children, who own the petite porker, said Wednesday they'll move rather than give Roxie up. On Tuesday, residents of the city of 20,600 people, about 30 miles northwest of Dayton in western Ohio, rejected a ballot proposal that would have allowed residents to keep miniature pigs as pets. The vote was 2,682 to 1,957.”

-- Dayton Daily News, November 4, 1993

7. SHOULD WE BAN SITTING ON THE SIDEWALK?

“Berkeley, among the most generous cities in the country in funding homeless services, is considering a daytime ban on sitting on the sidewalk in all commercial areas….The city currently prohibits lying on the sidewalk, but police and city officials said the law is ineffective because people sit up when officers walk by, then lie down again.”

-- San Francisco Chronicle, April 23, 2013 (Defeated)

8. SHOULD WE JUST START OUR OWN STATE?

“At Nan’s convenience store here in eastern Colorado, where the front door tells visitors that ‘Gun Control Is Hitting Your Target,’ the farmers, crop sprayers, mechanics and retirees who gather for morning coffee say they have had enough of the state and its Democratic leaders. They bristle at gun control laws and marijuana shops, green energy policies and steps to embrace gay marriage and illegal immigrants….So in November, this rural county and 10 others will hold a quixotic vote on whether to secede from Colorado and work to form their own state."

-- The New York Times, October 7, 2013 (Defeated)

9. SHOULD WE STOP SELLING THE EUROPEANS OUR HORSE MEAT?

“There’s also Proposition 6, prohibiting the sale of horse meat for human consumption. Each year, an estimated 10,000 California horses end up as gourmet steaks on the tables of France, Switzerland, Belgium, and Japan.”

-- Lodi News-Sentinel, November 3, 1998 (Approved)

10. SHOULD WE BAN AIRBOATS AT NIGHT (OR IS THAT A HATE LAW)?

“For more than a decade, a dispute has simmered over airboat noise on Orange Lake, Newnan’s Lake and other water bodies in Alachua County. The battle revved up in 2009 and will go full throttle on Election Day as voters decide on a proposed nighttime airboat curfew banning the boats on all water bodies in the county from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m…The current advertising campaign includes a recent television spot comparing the curfew ordinance to a 'hate' law promoting discrimination."

-- The Gainesville Sun, October 18, 2010 (Approved)

11. SHOULD WE BUILD A NEW HOUSE FOR THE PREGNANT ELEPHANT?

“In Cincinnati, zoo officials have threatened to ship off its four Asian elephants, one of them pregnant, if voters reject a $52 million tax levy for a new Elephant House and parking lot.”

-- The Associated Press, November 1, 1997 (Defeated)

12. SHOULD WE EXIST?

“Voters in tiny Castlewood, Virginia, meanwhile, will decide whether to vote the town – and the attendant town taxes – out of existence.”

-- The Associated Press, November 1, 1997 (Approved—the town effectively abolished itself and was absorbed into Russell County.)

A New Ruth Bader Ginsburg Bobblehead Is Available for Pre-Order

The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum
The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum

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The late Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a devout champion for feminism and civil rights, and her influence stretched from the halls of the Supreme Court to the forefront of popular culture, where she affectionately became known as the Notorious RBG. Though there are plenty of public tributes planned for Ginsburg in the wake of her passing, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum has a new RBG bobblehead ($25) available for pre-order so you can honor her in your own home.

There are two versions of the bobblehead available, one of Ginsburg smiling and another with a more serious expression. Not only do the bobbleheads feature her in her Supreme Court black robe, but eagle-eyed fans will see she is wearing one for her iconic coded collars and her classic earrings.

RBG is far from the only American icon bobblehead that the Hall of Fame store has produced in such minute detail. They also have bobbleheads of Abraham Lincoln ($30), Theodore Roosevelt ($30), Alexander Hamilton ($30), and dozens of others.

For more information on the RBG bobblehead, head here. Shipments will hopefully be sent out by December 2020 while supplies last.

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5 World War I-Era Tips for Celebrating Thanksgiving in Strange Times

Thanksgiving Day menu from November 1917 at Fort D. A. Russell in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Thanksgiving Day menu from November 1917 at Fort D. A. Russell in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
National World War I Museum and Memorial

The year 2020 has been one of hardships, sacrifices, and reimagined traditions. As the United States enters the holiday season with COVID-19 cases at a record high, this reality is more undeniable than ever.

Thanksgiving may look different for many people this year, but it won’t be totally unprecedented. Whether you’re connecting with people remotely, entertaining a smaller group, or trying out a new menu, you can find guidance in the records of Thanksgivings past.

As a 1918 newspaper article from the National World War I Museum and Memorial’s archives reads, “The thanks of the Yanks may differ this year from that of peace-time Novembers, but [...] the spirit of the day is always the same, however much the surroundings may differ."

Americans celebrating Thanksgiving at home and abroad during World War I had to deal with food shortages, being away from family, and, in 1918, a global pandemic. Mental Floss spoke with Lora Vogt, the World War I Museum’s curator of education, about what people making the best of this year’s holiday can learn form wartime Thanksgiving celebrations.

1. Mail Treats to Loved Ones.

Thanksgiving postcard from 1918.National World War I Museum and Memorial

Even when separated by great distances, families found ways to share food on Thanksgiving a century ago. “We have all of these letters from service members saying thanks for the candy, thanks for the cakes, thank you for the donuts—all of these foods they were sent from their loved ones when they couldn't be together,” Vogt tells Mental Floss.

If you're spending Thanksgiving apart from the people you love this year, sending them a treat in the mail can be a great way to connect from a distance. Just remember that not everything people mailed to each other during World War I belongs in a modern care package. “I would suggest you forgo the live chickens,” Vogt says. “The USPS has been through so much this year already.”

2. Try a New Recipe.

Food shortages made ingredients like sugar, wheat, and red meat hard to come by during World War I. In 1918, the U.S. government released a cookbook titled Win the War in the Kitchen, which featured ration-friendly recipes. Americans aren’t dealing with the same food shortages they saw during World War I (or even March 2020) this Thanksgiving, but an unconventional celebration could be the perfect excuse to recreate a dish from history. Some recipes from Win the War in the Kitchen that could fit into your Thanksgiving menu include corn fritters, lentil casserole, carrot pudding, Puritan turkey stuffing, and maple syrup cake with maple syrup frosting. You can find the full digitized version of the book at the National World War I Museum’s online exhibit.

3. Depart From Tradition.

This year is the perfect opportunity to break the rules on Thanksgiving. That means instead of sitting down to a stuffy dinner at a set time, you could enjoy a relaxed day of eating, drinking, and binge-watching. This excerpt from a 1918 letter written by serviceman James C. Ryan to his mother may provide some inspiration:

"Had Thanksgiven [sic] dinner at Huber's over in Newark. Collins was in Cleveland on a furlough and Huber and his wife was alone with me [...] Started off with a little champagne and I certainly did put away an awfull [sic] feed. Had several cold bottles during the day and after coming back from a movie we had a few and some turkey sandwiches."

“Starting off with a little champagne does not sound like a bad plan,” Vogt tells Mental Floss. “And it was very much a small pod. They have their variation of Netflix, and then turkey sandwiches at the end of the day. Certainly some similarities and some inspiration there.”

Thanksgiving festivities were also unconventional for soldiers serving overseas in World War I. While stationed "somewhere in France" on November 29, 1918, Hebert Naylor wrote to his mother describing a Thanksgiving with two big meals—and not a turkey in sight:

“We came back and had breakfast at 10 o’clock. It consisted of pancakes, syrup, bacon and coffee. We had the big dinner at 4:30 PM and I tell you it was quite a dinner to be served to so many men. It consisted of baked chicken, creamed corn, french fried potatoes, lettuce, pie, cake and coffee. This was the first pie and cake I had since I left home and believe me it tasted good.”

4. Find Normalcy Where You Can.

Thanksgiving 1918 for the 79th Aero Squadron at Taliaferro Field, Hicks, Texas.National World War I Museum and Memorial

No matter what your Thanksgiving looks like in 2020, making room for a couple of traditions can provide much-needed comfort in a year of uncertainty. Even people celebrating during wartime 100 years ago were able to incorporate some normalcy into their festivities. On November 29, 1917, serviceman Thomas Shook wrote about seeing a football game while at army training camp: “In the afternoon several of us went to the Army vs. Ill. U. football game. There sure was some crowd. Army lost the game first they have lost.”

Keeping some classic items on the menu is another way make the day feel more traditional. Army trainee Charles Stevenson wrote to his grandmother on Thanksgiving 1917: “We had about the best dinner I ever ate today—turkey, cranberry sauce and cranberries, fruit salad, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing, tea and mine [sic] pie. Pretty fine eating for the soldier bosy [sic].”

5. Share What You’re Thankful For.

During the Great War’s darkest moments, some service members were still inspired to express gratitude when Thanksgiving rolled around. Thomas Shook wrote in a letter to his parents dated November 28, 1918 that after surviving the war, he had now escaped the Spanish Flu that was infecting many of the men he served with. Despite the hardships he endured, he was thankful to have been spared by the virus and be on his way home.

Wherever you are this Thanksgiving, sharing what you’re grateful for with loved ones—even if it’s by phone, Zoom, or a handwritten letter—is a simple way to celebrate the holiday.