Marijuana, Obamacare, Gay Marriage Dominate State Ballots Tuesday

Fred Lucas | November 5, 2012 | 12:09pm EST
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Voters stand in line to pick up their absentee ballots in Doral, Fla., Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

( – The presidential and congressional elections are not the only thing on the minds of voters going into Tuesday’s elections, as several states have polarizing political issues such as Obamacare, homosexual marriage, immigration issues, abortion and marijuana on the ballot.

A total of 38 states have state constitutional amendments or referendums, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. While most are parochial matters dealing with state bonds or taxing authority, many of the issues could have a national impact or ripple effect to other states, particularly those issues decided on in multiple states.

Oklahoma residents will vote on State Question 759 to prohibit the state from granting preferential treatment based on race. Affirmative action has frequently been on ballots in the last two decades. Meanwhile, North Dakota voters will consider a proposal to prohibit smoking in public places and work sites. While contentious, these issues do not represent a trend among several states.

Some level of legalization for marijuana is on the ballot in six states. Meanwhile four states have ballot measures to undermine the federal mandates in the Affordable Care Act of 2010, better known as Obamacare. Voters in four states will decided on gay marriage. Here is an overview of state ballot initiatives that could have national consequences:

Obamacare on the ballot

Florida, Missouri, Montana and Wyoming are considering measures to stem the regulations from the federal health care law that mandates all individuals purchase health insurance, that all employers provide it and that every state set up health care exchanges.

Amendment 1 in Florida, if approved by voters, would change the state constitution to prohibit laws or rules from compelling any person or employer to purchase or provide health care coverage. LR-122 in Montana prohibits the state and federal governments from requiring the purchase of health insurance or imposing a penalty for not doing so.

The Health Care Freedom Amendment in Wyoming would amend the state constitution saying that health care decisions are reserved to the citizens of the state of Wyoming. Proposition E in Missouri would prohibit the state from establishing or operating health insurance exchanges.

Gay Marriage

If supporters of same-sex marriage win on the ballot initiatives in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota or Washington state, it will be the first time. This has been a reoccurring issue on state ballots in the last decade, as voters in 39 different states approved bans on gay marriage. Six state legislatures have enacted laws recognizing homosexual marriage, while five states recognize civil unions but not gay marriage.

In the past, most state ballot questions have asked if marriage should be defined as one man and one woman. That’s the case in Minnesota where voters will decide on a constitutional amendment determining marriage. In this case, a yes vote would be for a ban on homosexual marriage. Thus, voters would typically vote yes for traditional marriage.

However, ballot initiatives in Maine, Maryland and Washington state – where the state legislature approved same-sex marriage – have language that would allow the states to recognize gay marriage by affirming the enacted law. A yes vote would uphold the law, thus allowing gay marriage. A no vote would strike down the law.


Voters in Arkansas, Colorado, Massachusetts, Montana and Washington state will weigh in on either allowing medical use of marijuana or decriminalizing the drug. Already 16 states and the District of Columbia allow for some legal use of marijuana.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act is known as Issue 5 on the state’s ballot. The Massachusetts ballot has Question 3 allowing for the medical use of marijuana. Under these proposals, a patient would have to be diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s, and must obtain a written certification from a physician, according to the NCSL.

Senate Bill 423 on the ballot in Montana would essentially allow the state to establish a new medical marijuana program after a tightly regulated program was approved by voters in 2004 that limited those with debilitating diseases to receive marijuana grown by licensed providers. Those providers are now allowed to have more than three patients and are not allowed to receive anything of value from the marijuana, according to the NCSL.

In Colorado, Amendment 64 would not limit marijuana use for medical reasons. If approved, it would allow the growth, manufacture and sale of marijuana by licensed establishments regulated by the state. The proposal includes an excise tax which requires the first $40 million in revenue to go towards school construction, according to the NCSL. But that excise tax must be established by a separate vote.

In Oregon, Measure 80 would allow for personal marijuana and hemp cultivation without a license, while at the same time setting up a state commission to regulate the commercial sale and production of marijuana and hemp.

In Washington, Initiative 502 would decriminalize marijuana. If approved, the state would license and regulate marijuana production and possession for people over the age of 21 and remove all criminal penalties.

Immigration issues

Two states will decide on the often divisive issue of illegal immigration.

If voters in Maryland approve Question 4, then illegal aliens in that state will attend state universities paying in-state tuition.

In contrast, in Montana, voters will decide on LR-121, which would require individuals seeking a state license, state employment, unemployment or disability benefits, student aid for college, to provide identification to prove they are citizens. 

Life and death on the ballot

Two states are considering laws on abortion, another on the death penalty and another on doctor-assisted suicide.

If approved by voters, Florida’s Amendment 6 would change the constitution to ban state tax dollars for the use of abortion. The funding ban, however, would not apply to cases where the woman’s life would be in danger, or in cases of rape or incest.

Montana voters will decide on LR-120, which prohibits a doctor from performing an abortion on a female under the age of 16 without the consent of her parents at least 48 hours before the procedure. Notice is not required if the girl is facing a medical emergency, is waived by a youth court in a sealed proceeding or is waived by the parent or guardian.

California’s Proposition 134 would repeal the death penalty as the maximum punishment for murder and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In Massachusetts, Question 2 would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients if the patient is determined to be mentally capable of making the decision, a doctor determines the disease is irreversible and will cause death within six months, and the patient voluntarily expresses a wish to die.


Campaign finance rules


Even in the face of the landmark Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court that protected political speech through campaign contributions, states are seeking restrictions.

California’s Proposition 32 would, if enacted by voters, would restrict union dues from being used for campaign contributions. The law would permit voluntary contributions to employer or union committees if authorized annually in writing. It further prohibits corporations and unions from contributing directly to a campaign.

In Colorado, Amendment 65 would not actually change the law.

“The measure does not directly affect current state or federal campaign finance laws, or create campaign spending limits,” the NCSL said of the proposal. “Instead, it amends state law to encourage Congress and the state legislature to take steps to amend the U.S. Constitution to allow greater limits on the role of money in state and federal elections.

“The measure also expresses the intent of voters that state law should establish mandatory campaign spending limits, rather than encourage voluntary spending limits,” it added.

Initiative 166 in Montana establishes a state policy that corporations are not people and cannot have constitutional rights, such as contributing to a political campaign.

Ethics and election laws

Several states are considering initiatives to change election law and impose stricter penalties on politicians who run afoul of the law.

In Arizona, voters will consider Proposition 121, which would amend the state constitution to eliminate party primaries for state office, replacing it with a system where voters can vote for any candidate regardless of party, where the top two vote getters would face off in the general election. It would not apply to the presidential race or non-partisan local races. If approved, this would take effect in 2014.

In Louisiana, a state with a legacy of corruption scandals, voters will consider Amendment 5, which will require any state official convicted of a felony to forfeit his or her government pension.

Nebraska voters will consider changing the grounds for impeachment of a state official. If Amendment 1 passes, a state official could be impeached for acts committed before taking office. Current state law only allows for impeachment for acts while in office.

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