A Look at the National Ballot Measures

BY Geoffrey Lou Guray  November 5, 2012 at 2:51 PM EDT

Thaddeus Stevenson, of Brandywine, Md., braves the rain to set up signs for early morning metro travelers at the Greenbelt Metro station on October 19, 2012. Stevenson and a few others were there to encourage people to vote ‘no’ on Maryland Question 7, which would expand gaming in the state and pave the way for a new MGM casino at National Harbor in Prince George’s County. Photo by Eva Russo for the Washington Post via Getty Images.

In the battleground states, the airwaves are saturated with ads from the presidential campaigns and the outside groups that back them. In the states where the outcome of the presidential vote is just about certain — think Connecticut, or Alabama — it’s the hard-fought Senate races that are leading the discussion.

But in California, where President Obama and the Democrats are expected to easily win statewide contests, the ballot measures are taking some of the spotlight. They touch on a wide range of hot-button issues, from taxes and the death penalty to food labeling and the state’s “three strikes” law.

NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels recently took a look at those 11 measures, which have attracted more than $450 million in campaign funds to date, according to data made available by the Los Angeles Times.

Another 163 ballot questions will be put before voters in 37 other states. Here are some we’ll be watching on Election Night.



SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

Supporters of same-sex marriage have had little success pushing their agenda through at the ballot box: Voters have never passed a measure to legalize the practice. And just a few months ago, voters in North Carolina passed a ban by a comfortable margin.

The issue is being put to the voters again, this time in four states — Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington — and there is some chance that the outcome may be different this time around.

For one, President Obama’s announcement that he now backs same-sex marriage (declared in May just after the North Carolina vote) could have an impact. And he has explicitly endorsed the position in favor of same-sex marriage for the measures in Maine, Maryland and Washington, three states he is almost sure to carry in this election.

Jennie Bowser, a senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures, also highlighted the word choice used in the Maine measure, and the potential impact it may have on the outcome there. Voters in that state are confronting the issue just three years after they narrowly defeated a legalization law by popular referendum.

“In the past, voters in 30-odd states have been asked if marriage should be between one man and one woman,” Bowser said. “This year, the question in Maine is if they want to legalize same-sex marriage … People tend to vote more for something than against something.”

Recent polls showed that supporters of same-sex marriage have leads in Maine, Maryland and Washington. But the same cannot be said for Minnesota, where voters are being asked if they want to amend the state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. A recent poll from the Star Tribune showed supporters of the amendment leading, 48 percent to 47 percent, but still under the 50 percent threshold required for passage.



MARIJUANA

Currently, 17 states permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and after this election, Arkansas and Massachusetts could join that list. Montana voters are considering a measure that would significantly roll back restrictions on medical marijuana use.

But no state currently permits marijuana use for non-medical purposes, and since 1972, eight attempts in five different states legalizing recreational marijuana have failed. That could change if voters pass legalization measures this year in Colorado, Oregon or Washington.

A recent poll showed a narrow lead for the Colorado measure, and the fight there over legalization “has become a battle of big endorsements,” said Cynthia Hessin, host and executive producer of the Rocky Mountain PBS public affairs program “Colorado State of Mind.” This year’s Colorado Democratic Party platform includes an item supporting the legalization measure, and supporters picked up endorsements from former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo and the state’s largest union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7. Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet, both Democrats, have come out against the measure, as have Republican Attorney General John Suthers, two former governors and The Denver Post’s editorial board. (There’s a question as well about whether this measure could drive turnout in this key battleground state for libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson, who favors legalization.)

In Washington, both candidates for governor, Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna, have said they oppose legalization, but the measure there should have an easy path to passage. Polls have showed weaker support for legalization in Oregon, and pro-legalization donors have kept their distance from the campaign there, instead steering their money to the more promising measures in Colorado and Washington.



TAXES

In New Hampshire, a ballot measure on taxes is getting a lot of attention even though recent polls suggest it is a long shot for passage.

That measure asks voters if they want to amend the state constitution to ban new income taxes. A recent poll from the University of New Hampshire showed that the amendment has the support of 44 percent of voters, well short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage.

But in yet another sign that fiscal issues are looming large this election year, the income tax amendment has become a major campaign issue for the two candidates in the hotly contested race for governor: Democrat Maggie Hassan and Republican Ovide Lamontagne. And while Hassan and Lamontagne have said they would not enact new income or sales taxes as governor, only Lamontagne has expressed support for the amendment.

“Opposition to a broad-based sales or income tax is critically part of the New Hampshire advantage,” Lamontagne said on Nov. 1 during his 12th and final debate with Hassan.

“I don’t think we should make fiscal policy in the constitution,” Hassan responded. “I think the constitution should be amended in only very narrow circumstances.”



OTHER MEASURES TO WATCH

HEALTH CARE: Voters in four states — Alabama, Florida, Montana and Wyoming — are considering measures barring the state or federal government from mandating the purchase of health insurance. For now, the measures are symbolic: Even if they were passed, they would be pre-empted by the federal health care law’s individual mandate, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in June. The measures would regain significance, however, should the federal health care law be repealed.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE: Measures in Colorado and Montana would charge state and federal elected officials with amending the U.S. Constitution to allow for more robust regulation of campaign contributions and spending. The measures were proposed in response to the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case, which rolled back campaign finance regulation. But the Colorado measure, for one, “doesn’t have any great force of law in any way,” Hessin said. “It’s just a vote of confidence in the idea of campaign finance. And I know certainly in principle that there are people who think, yes, we should do something.” The amendment “has no particular teeth,” Hessin added.

VOTER ID: The NewsHour took a close look at the fight over Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law, and the issue will pop up again when voters in Minnesota head to the polls. A ballot measure there asks if voters in future elections should be required to show government-issued photo ID before voting.

REDISTRICTING: Voters in Ohio are considering a measure that would take the responsibility of redrawing voting districts away from state legislators and give it to a nonpartisan commission. The measure also would compel immediate action toward another redistricting, possibly allowing Democrats to redraw some of the lines put in place by Republicans, who controlled Ohio’s redistricting after the 2010 Census.

GAMBLING: The well-funded campaigns both for and against Maryland’s Question 7 have managed to flood the Washington media market with ads — a remarkable feat considering that market’s importance in the presidential campaign and the Virginia Senate race. The measure, endorsed by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, would enable the construction of a new casino in the state and allow the state’s casinos to expand into certain new kinds of gaming. A percentage of the casinos’ revenues is required by law to go into a state education fund, but there is some debate about whether that fund will see larger inflows if the measure passes.

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