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176 initiatives on ballots on Election Day

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Ballot measures on marijuana and marriage are drawing the lion's share of media attention across the country, but other propositions included on this year's ballot could affect everything from the food you eat to how much you pay in taxes.

Voters will decide on 176 measures in 38 states, up from 159 in 2010 and 153 in 2008, but still lower than the high-water mark of 204 propositions in 2006, according to the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California.

What's unique is the number of citizen-led popular or veto referendums. This year, 12 ballot measures are aimed at overturning decisions by state legislatures, including three in Maryland dealing with tuition breaks for illegal immigrants, redistricting and same-sex marriage.

"In a typical election year, we might see three or four popular referendums, and this year we have 12," said Jennie Bowser, senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver. "It's all very partisan and we're seeing it on both sides of the spectrum. It's that political polarization playing out on the ballot."

The measure most likely to reverberate nationally is California's Proposition 37, which would require companies to label genetically altered produce and other food items. Food and chemical giants, such as Monsanto and DuPont, have spent more than $40 million to defeat the measure, but if it passes, it could upend the industry.

"California is such a big market that it's going to change labeling nationwide. That's why the amount of money being poured in is so massive," said Mrs. Bowser.

Some trends of the 2012 ballot season include:

Taking a swipe at President Obama's Affordable Care Act: The health care law remains a hot topic on the 2012 ballot. Four states — Alabama, Florida, Montana and Wyoming — are considering propositions that would forbid compelling any business or person from participating in a health care system in what the IRI called "a partly symbolic judgment on the merits of 'Obamacare.'" Voters in four states have already approved such measures.

Unions playing defense and offense: Organized labor is fighting California's Proposition 32, which would ban unions from using money from automatic paycheck deductions for politics without the approval of its members. In Michigan, labor unions are championing Proposal 2, which would enshrine the right to collective bargaining into the state constitution.

In Idaho, teaches' unions have sponsored three measures that would repeal newly enacted laws governing teacher contracts, teacher performance pay and school funding. South Dakota unions are asking voters to overturn recent legislative education reforms, including a teacher-evaluation standard, merit-pay system and tenure elimination.

Raising taxes for education: Voters were in no mood for a tax hike in 2010, and most states didn't even try. This year, however, a half-dozen states are attempting to raise taxes in the name of education. California's Proposition 30 is the biggest of the bunch, a sales-and-income tax behemoth designed to gin up $6 billion. Arizona's Proposition 204 would make a temporary sales tax permanent, and Missouri's Proposition B would increase the tobacco tax.

On the tax-reduction side: Oregon's Measure 84 would eliminate the estate and inheritance tax, while Oklahoma's State Question 758 would curb the growth of property taxes. New Hampshire has no state income tax, and Amendment Question 2 would make such a tax unconstitutional.

Discouraging illegal immigration: Maryland voters are being asked whether to overturn a 2011 law giving in-state college tuition rates to illegal immigrants who graduated from state high schools. Montana's LR-121 requires anyone applying for state services to provide proof of citizenship.

Standing up for hunters' rights: Nebraska and Wyoming are considering adding constitutional amendments that would establish a right to fish and hunt. Idaho has proposed a similar measure as a statute. Four states approved similar measures in 2010 in reaction to the anti-hunting movement launched by animal-rights groups.

Abolishing capital punishment: California reinstated capital punishment in 1978, but a federal judge halted executions in 2006 after finding fault with the state's legal process. Proposition 34 would abolish capital punishment, commuting the sentences of the state's 725 Death Row inmates to life without parole.

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