Voters Face Wide Array of Cultural, Political Referenda

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:29pm EDT

( - Voters in 40 states Tuesday will have the opportunity to decide ballot referenda dealing with drugs, gambling, taxes and just about every other controversial issue you can think of. Arizona and New Mexico have the most ballot measures this year -- 14.

An election wouldn't be an election without tax initiatives appearing on the ballot. Massachusetts' voters will decide whether to abolish the state income tax. This initiative follows a vote in 2000 in which Bay State residents approved a tax cutting initiative only to have the state legislature delay its implementation because of "budget concerns."

The effort to scrap the state income tax has been the campaign centerpiece of Massachusetts Libertarian Party gubernatorial candidate Carla Howell. She has titled the initiative the "Small Government Act."

"We don't need an income tax and we need much lower property taxes," she said during a recent gubernatorial debate. However, pollsters in Massachusetts predict the initiative will fail.

Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a business lobby, told the Harvard Crimson Friday that the measure would destroy the workings of state government.

"This is far and away the most sweeping and potentially disruptive ballot initiative ever to come before Massachusetts voters," he said.
Elsewhere, Arkansas voters will decide whether to eliminate state taxes on food and medicine.

Drugs and Dealing

Several states will decide drug issues. In Ohio, voters will be asked whether required treatment should be substituted for jail time for non-habitual drug offenders. In Arizona, voters will decide if marijuana can be used for medicinal purposes while Nevadans will vote on whether state licensed stores should be able to legally sell three ounces of marijuana or less to residents over 21 years of age.

John Walters, the Bush administration's drug czar, has campaigned this year in both Arizona and Nevada against the efforts to decriminalize drug use.

Nevada's initiative does stipulate that marijuana smoking would be allowed in homes and not in cars or public places.

In South Dakota, voters will decide whether a state law should be changed making it legal under state law but not federal law to plant, sell or buy marijuana or any of its by-products.

Arizona voters will have three ballot initiatives dealing with gaming. Propositions 200 and 202 would expand Indian gaming and dictate where and how the proceeds are divided. Proposition 201 would decide whether "non-tribal gaming" should be allowed in the state.

Idaho voters are being asked whether "video gaming" should be allowed on Indian tribal land. In North Dakota, voters will decide whether the state legislature should authorize the state to join a multi-state lottery. Tennessee voters are also being asked to approve a state lottery.

Political Potpourri

Several states will vote on animal protection issues and the like.

In Florida, voters will decide whether to ban gestation crates for pigs. In Oklahoma, voters will decide an initiative to outlaw cockfighting. Cockfighting is currently legal only in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana. Arkansas voters will decide an initiative to toughen penalties for extreme acts of animal cruelty.

Education reform is another vital issue that voters in three states will get a chance to embrace or reject.

Colorado and Massachusetts voters will decide whether to eliminate bilingual education and replace it with a one-year English immersion program. In California, voters will be asked to shift an estimated $550 million a year in state funds to after-school programs for elementary and junior high students. Movie actor, Kennedy spouse and possible future gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger has been promoting the ballot measure in television commercials.

Election reform will be on ballots in several states this year. California and Colorado residents will decide whether they favor "same day voter registration," which would allow voters to cast their ballots at their polling places without having to go through the voter registration process someplace else first.

In Michigan, voters will be asked to reinstate straight party voting. The legislature last year passed a law prohibiting voters from choosing all the candidates from one political party by checking one box on the ballot. Critics said this was an option used mostly by Democrats.

Idaho voters will decide whether to reinstate term limits for state legislators after the legislature abolished those limits earlier this year.

Floridians will decide whether to amend the state constitution to prohibit tobacco smoking in enclosed indoor workplaces. Ohioans will decide a proposed constitutional amendment to ban smoking in all public places. Montanans will determine whether a statewide tobacco-use prevention program should be set up with funds from tobacco company settlements.

Initiatives on cigarette tax hikes are also on ballots in Missouri and Arizona.

Nevadans will decide an initiative designed to reinforce an existing ban on homosexual marriages by "legally recognizing only marriages between a male and a female person." Voters approved this initiative in 2000, but state law requires that it be voted on twice before becoming law.

New Mexicans will decide an initiative designating the last Friday in March as a legal holiday to honor the birthday of longtime labor leader Cesar Chavez, who died in 1993.

Oregon residents will decide whether labeling should be required of genetically engineered foods sold or distributed in or from Oregon.

Alaskans will consider whether to move all state legislative sessions from the state capital of Juneau first to Anchorage and then to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough when facilities there become available.

According to the Initiative and Referendum Institute, the use of referenda declined from a peak of 293 nationwide between 1911 and 1920 to a low of 87 between 1961-1970. Many factors contributed to the decline, the institute stated, including the distractions of two world wars, the Great Depression and the Korean War.

Only 49 statewide initiatives were certified for this year's November elections. That's the fewest since the 1986 general election when 46 initiatives went before voters.

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