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State Ballot Measures: 11 Hot Topics in 2012's Other Electoral Frontline

From raising taxes and legalizing pot to reviving labor rights, voters in 37 states will be busy.

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3. Democracy Issues

There are a range of democracy issues, starting in Michigan with repealing emergency powers legislation that the state’s GOP-controlled legislature passed enabling it to allow local governments—such as the city of Detroit—to revoke and rewrite existing contracts, including wages and benefits. The state’s GOP has delighted in taking over traditionally Democratic-run cities and revising wage, benefit and pension contracts, canceling projects and other contracted obligations, which has been called blatantly illegal under different provisions of the Michigan and U.S. constitutions.

Conservatives in two longtime Democratic-majority states— California and Maryland—are asking voters to repeal new redistricting commissions, which draw state and federal districts lines after the once-a-decade federal Census. They were unhappy that these citizen commissions did not do more to increase the GOP’s chances of regaining the political majority. In Ohio, a Democratic-backed measure would create a bipartisan redistricting commission, a response to that state’s GOP-dominated process last year.

On the campaign finance reform front, Colorado and Montana will ask voters different questions related to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that deregulated spending and has led to 2012’s million-dollar donors and political ad wars. Colorado’s Amendment 65 would instruct the Legislature to send a message to Congress instructing it to draft a constitutional amendment that would allow it to again regulate campaign cash. Montana’s I-166 would declare that corporations do not have constitutional rights, which is intended to allow it to restore some of its recently overturned campaign finance laws.

4. Gay Marriage

Same-sex marriage has been on state ballots for nearly a decade— 30 out of 31 measures banning gay marriage have been approved by voters, including Californians. In contrast, same-sex marriage victories consistently have come from the courts or legislatures. This fall, four states will vote on marriage-related propositions.

In Maine’s Question 1 and in Maryland’s Question 6, both put on the ballot by petitions, voters will be asked to legalize same-sex marriage by repealing prior laws that banned it. In Washington, opponents are asking voters to approve or repeal a new law that legalized gay marriage. And Minnesota voters will vote on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. (This May, North Carolina voters passed such a ban.)

5. Marijuana

Marijuana legalization measures are on the ballot in six states, including the first southern state to vote on it. The most liberal measures, legalizing it for recreational use, are on the ballot in Colorado ( Amendment 64), Oregon ( Measure 80) and in Washington ( I-502). Polls taken this summer have shown the Colorado and Washington measures with more support than opposition.

Three states have medical marijuana measures. In Montana, IR-124 would reverse recent legislation that rolled back big parts of the state’s medical marijuana law passed in 2004. Question 3 in Massachusetts would allow medical marijuana use. And Arkansas’ Issue 5 would allow medical use—the first time the issue has come up in the South.

6. Obamacare

After the Affordable Care Act became law, four states passed ballot measures saying no individual or business would be forced to participate in a healthcare system (Arizona, Missouri, Ohio and Oklahoma). Colorado’s voters rejected a similar statement. This November, voters in four more states will vote on similar measures ( Alabama, Florida, Montana and Wyoming). These votes are seen as symbolic, because health officials in most states have been quietly planning to implement the law, according to news reports, particularly after the Supreme Court upheld the law this past June.

7. Illegal Immigrants

Anti-immigrant sentiments are behind two measures on opposite sides of the country. In Maryland, conservatives are behind Question 4, which would repeal 2011 legislation that allows illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities, if they attended high school in Maryland and their parents paid taxes. In Montana, LR-121 is a legislature-sponsored measure that would deny state services to illegal immigrants. It requires individuals who apply for state welfare benefits or student loans at state universities to present proof of citizenship.