Filed Oct. 20 2008
WASHINGTON– Americans will choose more than their next president next Tuesday. In many states, voters will also vote on issues ranging from abortion and gay marriage, to assisted suicide, marijuana and animal rights.
Placed on the ballot by citizen activists or legislators, these propositions can galvanize voter enthusiasm and change state law.
“They’re hugely important to everyday life for many people this country,” said John Matsusaka, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of South California, which analyzes ballot propositions.
Americans in 36 of the 50 states will vote on 153 ballot propositions. Many are citizen initiatives to overturn laws or court decisions by amending their state constitution. Such amendments are impossible to overturn without another vote.
In one of the highest-profile propositions, Californians will choose whether to change the state’s constitution so marriage could only be between a man and a woman.
Last May California became the second state in the country to allow gay couples to marry after the Supreme Court deemed marriage a constitutional right. This proposition aims to overrule that decision and put an end to gay weddings.
Florida and Arizona have similar initiatives on the ballot although same-sex marriage is not permitted in either state.
Opponents of abortion rights, another divisive issue in the U.S., have placed initiatives on two state ballots. In South Dakota, voters will decide whether to ban the procedure.
A similar initiative failed in 2006 because it did not include exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. This year, those exceptions are included, making it more likely to pass.
Colorado’s proposed amendment does not mention abortion. Yet, by defining a “person” as a human being from the moment of fertilization, it would make all abortions equivalent to murder.
Several propositions this year involve animals, not people. Animal rights activists in California are promoting an amendment guaranteeing minimum living space to farm animals, including veal calves, egg-laying hens, and pregnant pigs.
In Massachusetts, voters will be able to ban commercial dog racing. In Oklahoma, legislators are seeking to amend the state constitution to give people the right to hunt, trap and fish.
Here are some other controversial propositions set to appear on ballots across the country:
• In Massachusetts and California, activists are seeking to decriminalize possession of marijuana.
• In Arkansas, foster parents are opposing an initiative that would ban unmarried couples from adopting kids.
• In Washington, the “Death with Dignity” initiative would allow terminally ill patients to commit suicide with the help of a doctor.
• In South Carolina, voters will decide whether to increase the age of sexual consent for unmarried girls, currently set at 14.
• In Maryland, Ohio, Colorado and Maine, successful propositions would expand in-state gambling.
• In Nebraska and Colorado, opponents of affirmative action have placed the issue on the ballot.
• In Oregon, educators are protesting an initiative that would tie teachers’ salaries to classroom performance.