Monday, October 18, 2004

Much attention has focused on the 11 state ballot questions addressing same-sex “marriage” that will be considered by voters on Nov. 2.

But there will also be Election Day questions deciding other contentious issues, such as barring illegal immigrants from public services, fully legalizing marijuana, raising taxes on cigarettes and on the rich, changing how a state’s Electoral College votes are allocated, and spending billions of dollars on stem-cell research.

Altogether, voters in 32 states — predominantly in the West — will be deciding a total of 157 ballot initiatives and referendums dealing with everything from making Washington state’s sales tax the highest in the nation to fund education to requiring that 10 percent of the electricity used in Colorado come from clean sources.

Voters in 11 states — Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah — will weigh in on whether homosexuals should be prevented from legally “marrying” through constitutional amendments. In Georgia, the state high court set today as the day to hear challenges to the proposed amendment there.

Missouri and Louisiana voters already approved state constitutional amendments banning homosexual “marriage” by votes with margins of more than 70 percent in recent weeks. But on Oct. 5, Louisiana Judge William Morvant struck down the marriage amendment approved by voters in that state a month earlier, saying it was too broad.

John Matsusaka, head of the Initiative & Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California, which tracks ballot measures, said in a recent telephone interview he assumes “most” of the marriage amendments will pass.

In Arizona, Proposition 200 would require proof of citizenship to register to vote and to obtain public services. The measure would also make it a misdemeanor if state employees fail to report violations of immigration law.

“It’s very similar to the very controversial measure 187 that was on the California ballot [in 1994] that is widely believed to have organized and energized the Latino groups who felt they were being singled out,” Mr. Matsusaka told National Public Radio.

On its Web site, the Initiative & Referendum Institute says: “Illegal immigration is a hot-button issue that could increase turnout and affect the outcome of the presidential race in Arizona.”

Proposition 200 is sponsored by a group called Protect Arizona Now and is supported by a number of Republican candidates for state office. However, most incumbent officeholders, including Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, both Republicans, Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, the state’s eight congressmen and the heads of the state Democratic and Republican parties oppose it.

Even so, “it could definitely pass,” Mr. Matsusaka said.

A measure with national implications is Colorado’s Amendment 36, which would end the state’s current winner-take-all electoral system and would, instead, allocate its nine Electoral College votes proportionately to each presidential candidate’s popular vote.

Amendment 36 is written to take effect retroactively, so it could shift electoral votes in the Nov. 2 elections. The measure is financed by wealthy California activist Jorge Klor de Alva and is opposed by the state’s Republican leadership.

California voters often decide on some of the more unusual and far-reaching ballot questions, and this year is no exception. Sixteen initiatives will be considered, the most for any state.

One especially costly California initiative is a $3 billion bond issue to fund embryonic stem-cell research, medical work that remains at the center of moral battles because it can require destroying human embryos.

The initiative is raising some — but not too many — eyebrows in a state that’s already financially strained, as a result of prior voter mandates requiring that almost 40 percent of state funding be spent on public schools.

But Proposition 71 has the support of powerful people and groups such as Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, the California Medical Association and the American Lung Association. Some polls show seven out of 10 voters endorse it. Former first lady Nancy Reagan’s support for increased stem-cell research has undoubtedly been a factor in the measure’s popularity.

The chief opponents of the initiative are the California Catholic Conference and some anti-tax groups. To date, supporters have raised 10 times the amount raised by opponents.

Nationally, the total number of ballot questions that will be decided next month is 45 fewer than in the 2002 elections. Mr. Matsusaka said reduced tax and bond measures accounted for most of that decrease.

“Most states have emerged from their fiscal crises of two years ago,” he said.

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