Everybody is watching Mitt Romney and Barack Obama campaign in the presidential election. But as they go to the polls this November, voters will also decide on 176 statewide ballot measures. Their choices will range from matters picayune (a proposal to end term limits for county sheriffs in West Virginia) to life-or-death (assisted suicide in Massachusetts).
Below is a roundup of some of the most interesting or electorally important measures -- not including Alabama's proposal to remove school segregation from its Constitution.
Gay marriage won't be the same hot-button issue it was in 2004 -- when it may have pushed George W. Bush over the top in Ohio -- but <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/09/gay-marriage-votes_n_1950403.html?utm_hp_ref=elections-2012">four states are voting on the issue this year</a>. Maine becomes <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/25/us/politics/second-time-around-hope-for-gay-marriage-in-maine.html">the first state where same-sex marriage supporters are pushing for a popular vote</a>, in the belief they can reverse a similar referendum that went against them in 2009. Gay marriage looks poised to pass in Maryland and Washington states, but the odds are dicier in Minnesota, where an amendment to the state constitution would define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Voters in <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/17/marijuana-legalization-ba_n_1891282.html">Colorado</a>, <a href="http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2012/09/big_pro-marijuana_donors_bypas.html">Oregon</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/12/washington-pot-sale-legalization_n_1961334.html">Washington</a> are deciding whether to allow the sale of marijuana to adults for recreational use. Marijuana reformers' heavy emphasis on the budget benefits of taxing marijuana, along with a long-running trend of relaxed attitudes towards illegal drugs, could mean passage of at least one of them this year. In Washington, a poll shows that <a href="http://www.surveyusa.com/client/PollReport.aspx?g=8d573f69-9273-4d27-b14c-25f6a9531d5e&c=16">57 percent of voters</a> are in favor of legalizing it. But even if these measures pass, they could run smack into <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/03/how-will-feds-react-if-co_n_1935489.html">opposition from the federal government</a>. One lingering question: whether the popularity of the legalization amendment in Colorado <a href="http://blogs.westword.com/latestword/2012/08/marijuana_amendment_64_hurt_obama_colorado.php">will help or hurt Barack Obama's chances</a> in that crucial swing state.
California Propositions 30 And 38: A War Over Taxes
Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is squaring off against Molly Munger, a civil rights attorney <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-10-12/munger-siblings-spend-54-million-to-sway-california-vote">who is the daughter of a billionaire Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman</a>, in a no-holds-barred fight over whether to raise taxes to fix crippling gaps in California's education budget. The funny thing is, both agree that taxes should be raised. <a href="http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/California_Proposition_30,_Sales_and_Income_Tax_Increase_%282012%29">Brown's Proposition 30</a> would raise sales taxes and income taxes on the wealthy, while <a href="http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/California_Proposition_38,_State_Income_Tax_Increase_to_Support_Education_%282012%29">Munger's Propostion 38</a> would increase income taxes for most Californians. Brown's, however, would not earmark the money specifically for schools. Brown <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2012/oct/06/local/la-me-prop38-20121006">has rallied teachers unions and the state's Democratic establishment to his side</a>. He and Munger <a href="http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/california-politics/2012/10/california-molly-munger-jerry-brown-tax-plans-ad.html">have not had kind words for each other</a>. If both measures pass, the one with the most votes goes into effect.
California Proposition 32: 'Paycheck Protection'
This initiative has tried to position itself as an effort to get money out of politics. It would prohibit donations from corporations to state candidates. But the real heart of Prop 32 is a section that would prevent unions from using automatic payroll deductions for political purposes. It's a proposal, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/12/prop-32-california-education-reform_n_1962536.html">critics like teachers unions say</a>, that would defang labor while leaving corporations free to set up limited liability corporations for donations. Voters seem to be split on the measure, although they are <a href="http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/california-politics/2012/09/poll-finds-voters-split-on-proposition-32.html">leaning against it 49 to 42 percent</a> in a recent independent poll.
California Proposition 34: The Death Penalty
California voters <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/03/sister-helen-prejean-proposition-34_n_1937436.html">will have the opportunity</a> to make their state the 18th to get rid of capital punishment. Support for the death penalty has been <a href="http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0112/71156.html">declining generally over the past couple decades</a>, but polls on Prop 34 right now are up in the air.
Maryland Question 4: A State Dream Act
In addition to same-sex marriage, Maryland voters will also get to pick whether undocumented immigrants should be allowed to pay in-state tuition for public higher education. Supporters and opponents have faced off over <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/costs-benefits-of-md-dream-act-hard-for-voters-to-measure/2012/09/28/f746be6e-07f9-11e2-afff-d6c7f20a83bf_story_1.html">how much that would cost</a>. If enacted, it would be the first state-level Dream Act passed by voters. A poll released by the pro-Question 4 group Educating Maryland Kids found <a href="http://www.somdnews.com/article/20121003/NEWS/710039504/1055/poll-shows-md-ready-for-dream-act&template=southernMaryland">60 percent of voters in favor and 26 percent against</a>.
Michigan Proposal 2: Collective Bargaining Rights
Can people power put a stop to the anti-union wave symbolized by Scott Walker's recall victory earlier this year? That's what unions in Michigan are hoping. They've put a measure on the state's ballot that would enshrine a constitutional right to collective bargaining. If it passes, it would prevent a Michigan repeat of the Wisconsin debacle for public employees' unions, and also prevent the state from going right-to-work. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder opposes the measure because, <a href="http://www.freep.com/article/20121012/NEWS06/121012015/Gov-Rick-Snyder-bond-rating-agencies-Moody-s-Standard-Poor-s-Fitch-John-Nixon">he says</a>, it would be "devastating to the reinvention of Michigan." The public has found the debate over Proposal 2 "confusing and polarizing" <a href="http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120924/POLITICS01/209240339">according to the Detroit News</a>. The only poll so far has the pro-union measure <a href="http://www.freep.com/article/20120916/NEWS15/309160161/Poll-Michigan-voters-skeptical-about-collective-bargaining-bridge-ballot-proposals?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE">up 48 to 43 percent</a>.
Michigan Proposal 1: Emergency Managers
A controversial law passed in 2011 in Michigan granted Republican Gov. Rick Snyder (pictured) the power to appoint "emergency managers" with near-unlimited budget-making powers for cities and towns in financial distress. Opponents have charged that <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2011/11/pontiac_mich_can_a_technocrat_succeed_where_democracy_failed_.html">the law subverts democracy</a>, and, in the case of Detroit, civil rights leaders suggested that its use <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/possibility-of-emergency-manager-in-detroit-prompts-civil-rights-concerns/2012/01/04/gIQATFqYdP_story.html">had disturbing racial implications</a>. Proposal 1 would repeal the emergency manager law -- but voters opposed it <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/24/michigan-emergency-manager-law-poll_n_1828187.html">53 percent to 33 percent</a> in an August poll.
Ohio Issue 2: Citizen Redistricting
Issue 2 in Ohio could be one of the most important decisions you've never heard of this year. If passed, it would create a citizens' redistricting commission -- similar to the one that redrew lines in California -- to take the power to gerrymander congressional districts out of politicians' hands. That happened last year, when House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) <a href="http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2011/12/12/redistricting.html">directed from behind the scenes</a> how his state's 16 congressional districts were carved up. If Issue 2 passes, the citizen commission <a href="http://www.cleveland.com/open/index.ssf/2012/10/redistricting_reform_proposal_1.html">would have a chance to decide</a> how the state's congressional districts look for the 2014 election. That could explain why the state's Republican Party is <a href="http://www.toledoblade.com/Politics/2012/08/10/Redistricting-issue-shows-sharp-Ohio-divide.html">furiously opposed to it</a>, to the point of calling the League of Women Voters a "special-interest snake in the grass."
Montana I-166: Banning Corporate Campaign Spending
This initiative, supported by Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) and Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger (R), is meant as a response to the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United that legalized unlimited campaign spending by corporations. It would <a href="http://www.standwithmontanans.org/ballot_language">direct Montana officials</a> to implement "a policy that corporations are not human beings with constitutional rights." Although the measure is largely symbolic, it would send another signal, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/10/montana-campaign-donation-limits_n_1954591.html">along with an ongoing court fight</a>, that Montanans don't want big business money in their elections. It seems likely to pass: A September survey from Public Policy Polling <a href="http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/2012/09/bullock-edges-hill-for-montana-governor.html">had it up by 29 points</a>.
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