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State Ballot Initiatives Could Influence Presidential Campaign

Controversial state law initiatives, set to appear on this November's ballot, could influence the debate throughout the presidential campaign, and provide national voters various litmus tests by which to judge the candidates. Research shows that initiatives do not increase turnout, but the measures are prompting Barack Obama and John McCain to take positions on hot-button issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, affirmative action, labor rights, and energy. Here is a roundup of some of the most divisive initiatives:

  • Abortion: South Dakota will consider banning abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or threats to a woman’s health. California will vote on parental notification (for the third time). Colorado voters will decide whether to define a “person” as “any human being from the moment of fertilization.”
  • Same-sex marriage: In Arizona, California, and Florida, voters will decide whether to amend the state constitutions and define marriage as between one man and one woman, like 27 other states have. McCain endorsed the proposal, while Obama says he opposes the ban.
  • Affirmative Action: Arizona, Colorado, and Nebraska will consider banning affirmative action, as California, Michigan and Washington have. McCain supports the ban, although in 1998 he opposed something similar. Obama opposes a ban.
  • To find out what voters will decide about labor and energy,


    • Labor: Colorado will decide whether to prohibit employers from requiring union membership or union dues. In South Dakota, a measure would prohibit unions from making political contributions if they have agreements with state or local governments. In Ohio, voters will decide whether to require companies with over 50 workers to provide seven paid sick days. Obama’s platform endorses a similar plan for sick leave, while McCain has criticized the idea. Massachusetts's ballot has an initiative to abolish the state income tax.
    • Energy: A California measure would require utilities to generate 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2010, increasing to 40 percent in 2020 and 50 percent by 2025.

    Do you think ballot initiatives are the best way for activists to call attention to their causes?


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