(by Fred Lucas, CNSNews.com) – Though the presidential race is front and center in most voters’ minds, state ballots have various initiatives that include constitutional bans on homosexual marriage and abortion, and laws to end racial preferences in hiring.

Traditional marriage protection amendments are on the ballot in California, Florida and Arizona, but the most significant battleground is likely California, where this year the state Supreme Court ruled homosexual couples had the right to marry.

Meanwhile, abortion bans are being considered by voters in South Dakota and Colorado. Colorado is also one of two states, along with Nebraska, with ballot initiatives to end affirmative action regulations.

Meanwhile, Washington State voters will consider a law making doctor-assisted suicide easier. Other notable ballot issues include reducing penalties for marijuana use in California and Massachusetts, and requiring utility companies to produce more renewable energy in California and Missouri.

Colorado, which also has a right-to-work proposal on the ballot, has the highest number of ballot initiatives, with 14, followed by California, with 12.

Marriage: California lead battleground

Historically, 29 of the 30 state measures to ban homosexual marriage have succeeded, according to the Initiative and Referendum Institute, a University of Southern California (USC) group that monitors referendums nationwide.

The institute – in a report on 2008 ballot initiatives across the country – assesses Proposition 8 in California as the most significant, noting, “So far the movement to legalize gay marriage has been driven by courts and not by the legislature or initiatives, the more democratic parts of government. If California voters reject Proposition 8, thereby affirming the right to gay marriage, it will be the first significant popular affirmation of the idea.”

Polls show California’s Proposition 8 – defining marriage as between a man and woman – is close. An Oct. 22 poll by the Public Policy Institute showed 52 percent of likely voters opposed the constitutional ban on gay marriage, while 44 percent supported it.

However, a poll a few days earlier, Oct. 17, showed the amendment defining a marriage as between a man and woman winning by 48 percent to 45 percent.

Voter participation for these measures is usually higher than polls suggest, said Randy Thomason, president of Save California, a group pushing for the passage of the marriage amendment. He recalled that a statutory ban passed on the ballot in California in 2000 by more than 60 percent.

Thomason is confident it will pass, even though Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama – expected to win California by a healthy margin – opposes Proposition 8.

“California’s black and Latino populations strongly support defining marriage as between a man and woman,” Thomason told CNSNews.com. Yet “we’ve had volunteers that won’t take McCain signs. People do not get the connection.”

Thomason believes Arizona, which rejected a similar proposal in 2006, will pass their proposal this year. However, he thinks Florida, requiring 60 percent to pass a constitutional amendment, could be a challenge.

The 2006 Arizona initiative also blocked benefits to unmarried couples, prompting even some opponents of homosexual marriage to oppose the measure, according to the Associated Press. The 2008 initiative only defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

There is a different political environment in Arizona this year, home of the Republican presidential nominee John McCain, where a huge Republican turnout is expected, said USC law professor Kareem Crayton, a faculty affiliate of the Initiative and Referendum Institute. Meanwhile, he expects Florida to pass the amendment as well but said the California amendment is still a toss up.

“If you ask the public, there has been some movement, but still a majority is against same-sex marriage,” Crayton told CNSNews.com. “Florida and Arizona will not take the California approach, where it is equally likely and unlikely to pass. The fact that it is this close now (in California) compared to eight years ago says something.”

Florida’s Amendment 2 ban on homosexual marriage is leading with 56 percent, short of the 60 percent required, a Mason-Dixon poll last week showed. In Arizona, where only a simple majority is required for passage, 49 percent of voters support the measure while 42 percent oppose the ban, according to a KAET-TV/Arizona State University poll.

Abortion: close in SD, likely loser in Colorado

With the confirmation of two apparently pro-life judges to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006, the South Dakota legislature passed a state ban on abortion in hopes of prompting a court case that would overturn Roe vs. Wade, the case that legalized abortion nationwide.

Opposition groups in South Dakota put a referendum on the November 2006 ballot, and the initiative to overturn the abortion ban passed with 56 percent of the vote.

However, this year’s provision is expected to have far broader support. That’s because the South Dakota ban would make exceptions for rape, incest and the mother’s health, all elements that were not in the 2006 ban.

Still, voters are split, with 44 percent backing the proposal and 44 percent against it, according to an Argus Leader Media/KELO-TV poll this week.

In Colorado, backers are sounding less than enthusiastic about a constitutional amendment that does not mention abortion but defines a person as a human from the point of conception. …………..

A Mason-Dixon poll this month showed that 48 percent opposed the Colorado amendment defining life at conception; 30 percent support it; and 22 percent are undecided.

“My sense is that voters see this as an extreme way to eliminate abortion by defining a human being as a fertilized egg,” said E. Scott Adler, a political science professor at the University of Colorado.

Affirmative action: on the line in Midwest

Adler is unsure if Colorado, along with Nebraska, will follow suit with the states of California in 1996, Washington State in 1998 and Michigan in 2006 to end racial preferences via popular vote.

“What voters do here is not necessarily conditioned on what has happened across the country as a wider trend,” Adler said. “Though voters do tend to say no to what some call preferential treatment.”

A Quinnipiac University Poll found that 63 percent of respondents supported an affirmative-action ban in Colorado.

The ballot language for both initiatives is, “The state shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any group or individual on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public contracting or public education.”

Though few polls were done in Nebraska, the Wall Street Journal cited this week a June poll that showed 71 percent of voters supported a ban on preferences, according to a survey commissioned by the American Civil Rights Institute, which promoted the ballot initiative.

Suicide, drugs and right to work

A number of other hot button issues appear on ballots across the country.

Voters in Washington State are considering a “Death with Dignity” law, which would allow doctor-assisted suicides. Former Gov. Booth Gardner, who has Parkinson’s disease, is leading the effort. The neighboring state of Oregon adopted a similar proposal in 1994.

A solid majority in Washington – 57 percent – favor assisted suicide, according to an Elway Research poll this week. Only one-third opposed the measure while 10 percent were undecided. This is a big difference from 1991, when Washington voters rejected a similar ballot initiative.

Such initiatives have also been rejected in California, Michigan, and Maine, according to American Medical News.

Another Colorado initiative is getting far less attention, Adler said. That is a ballot measure to prevent employers from requiring union membership for union dues payment, typically known as a “right to work” law.

“This is not a huge union state and the issue is under the radar,” Adler said. “I’m not sure voters have strongly held views, but those that do are union members.”

Almost half the voters oppose the right-to-work law in Colorado, while just 21 percent support it, according to a Mason-Dixon poll this month.

Voters in both California and Massachusetts will vote on whether to reduce the penalty for possession of marijuana to an infraction punishable by a fine. In Massachusetts that would mean decriminalization. California already reduced the offense to a misdemeanor. Michigan has a ballot initiative to allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

“Historically, voters have not been receptive to the libertarian argument for liberalization,” the Initiative and Referendum Institute report said. “These measures try a different tacti
c, focusing on sanctions and cost of enforcement.”

Adding to its collection of referendums, California is letting voters decide whether all utility companies – private and public – should be required to generate 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2010, rising to 40 percent in 2020 and 50 percent in 2025.

Missouri has a proposal to require two percent of electricity be generated from renewable resources, rising to 15 percent by 2021.

All original CNSNews.com material, copyright 1998-2008
Cybercast News Service. Reprinted here with permission from CNSNews.
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NOTE TO STUDENTS:  This is a long article with more questions than usual.  It will take longer to complete, but reading the article and answering the questions will give you a feel for what issues are important to people around the country. 

1.  What is a ballot measure? (See “Background” below the questions for the answer.)

2.  In what states will voters decide on whether to add a traditional marriage amendment to their state constitution?

3.  In which state is the vote for a traditional marriage amendment the most significant?  Why?

4.  List the other issues described in the article that voters will decide on in ballot measures across the country next week.

5.  Which state has the highest number of ballot initiatives in November’s election?

6.  What do polls show about voters’ feelings about California’s Prop 8 (to make marriage between one man and one woman only)?

7.  a) How are California’s black and Latino populations expected to vote on the marriage amendment proposition?
b)  Why do you think these two groups hold this view?

8.  Arizona is the only state out of 30 to have rejected a marriage amendment (in 2006).  Why is the amendment expected to pass next week?

9.  a) What does professor Scott Adler think the motive is of the Right to Life group that put the constitutional amendment on the ballot that does not mention abortion but defines a person as a human from the point of conception?
b)  Do you agree with Mr. Adler?  Explain your answer.

10. a) What is affirmative-action?
b)  Which states banned affirmative-action in the late 1990’s?
c)  Which states will have proposals to ban affirmative-action on their ballots next week?

11. a) Which state has already passed a ballot measure making doctor-assisted suicide legal?
b)  Which state has a proposal to make doctor-assisted suicide legal?
b)  In which states did voters reject initiatives to make doctor-assisted suicide legal?

12. Does your state have any initiatives or referendums on your ballot for this election?  If so, how would you vote?  Why?
(see link to iandrinstitute.org in “Background” below)


Anything that appears on a ballot other than a candidate running for office is called a ballot measure.  Ballot measures are broken down into two distinct categories – initiatives (or propositions) and referendums.

  • Initiative (proposition) – Citizens, collecting signatures on a
    petition, place advisory questions, memorials, statutes (laws) or
    constitutional amendments on the ballot for the citizens to adopt or
    reject.  “Initiative” refers to newly drafted legislation submitted
    directly to a popular vote as an alternative to adoption by a state
    legislature.  Twenty-four states have the initiative process. 
  • Referendum – In many of the same states the citizens have the referendum process
    – the ability to reject laws or amendments proposed or already passed
    by the state legislature.  

The terms above are all forms of “direct democracy” practiced by various states.  In a direct democracy, all citizens,
without the intermediary of elected or appointed officials, can
participate in making public decisions.  Ballot measures are a form of direct democracy practiced by many states in the U.S.

Read more about ballot measures (initiatives and referendums) at the Initiative and Referendum website iandrinstitute.org.

View of map of the types of ballot measures states have at iandrinstitute.org/statewide_i%26r.htm.


Read the Initiative and Referendum Institute’s report Election 2008 Preview: A Surge of Social Issues  [NOTE: This is a PDF document – it might take a few minutes to open.]

Visit StudentNewsDaily’s updated “Become and Educated Voter” page at studentnewsdaily.com/other/become-an-educated-voter/

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