Voters in Seven States Weigh Ballot Measures

The name of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) isn't on this year's ballot, but his prestige and hopes of re-election in 2006 are on the line when voters in California - along with eight other states - go to the polls in statewide elections Nov. 8.

Voters in California, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas and Washington will consider 39 statewide ballot measures Tuesday. New Jersey and Virginia will hold gubernatorial and state legislative elections the same day. Pennsylvania has a statewide judicial contest.

In this off-year election, an unusual number of citizen-initiated proposals - 18 of the 39 -- are going before voters. The biggest ballot fight swirls around the special election called by Schwarzenegger to bypass Democrats in the Legislature and push his package of four reforms.

But the off-year election will offer plenty of clues to political strategists already gearing up for ballot initiative drives, 36 governor's contests and congressional races in 2006.

"Both sides are using off-year elections as a testing ground for their coordinated strategies," said Kristina Wilfore, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center , which supports progressive state ballot measures.

California voters will get to weigh in on Schwarzenegger's proposal to cap state spending, on the heels of Colorado's passage Nov. 1 of a ballot measure to temporarily relax the nation's strictest spending limit. Coloradans also voted down a measure to allow the state to borrow $2.1 billion.

Changes to state budgeting processes also will be a key ballot issue in New York. Redistricting procedures, prescription drug discounts and gay rights are among the other hot-button topics on ballots.

Voters in Maine and Washington will decide whether to repeal laws recently enacted by each state's Legislature. The Maine proposal would repeal a law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. Washington voters may roll back a 9.5-cent-per-gallon increase in the gasoline tax that the Legislature approved in April. Washington is one of six states with no income tax, and Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) is working with lawmakers to devise a strategy to defeat the initiative.

Eighteen of the measures made it on to the ballot through citizen initiatives, a process allowed in 24 states that lets residents collect signatures to place a proposed law on the statewide ballot, bypassing the legislature. The other measures were referred to the statewide ballot by legislatures. 

This year, three times as many citizen initiatives qualified for statewide ballots as in 2003, the most recent off-year election, though California's eight proposals are largely responsible for the spike. In 2001 and 1999, even fewer citizen initiatives appeared on statewide ballots, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures .

The high-water mark for ballot initiatives was during the 1996 presidential election cycle, when voters considered 93 citizen-sponsored measures. Jennie Bowser, an NCSL policy analyst, said it's becoming increasingly popular for initiative proponents to seek constitutional amendments -- rather than statutory changes -- as a way to lock in voters' preferences.

"It means we're starting to get some unwieldy constitutions in the states," Bowser said.

Some experts say initiatives are becoming increasingly important because their role is changing. Conceived at the start of the 20 th century as a Populist answer to corruption in statehouses, the initiative is being used increasingly by political strategists on the right and the left to lure each wing's base to the polls on Election Day.

"What is increasingly unique is how organizations and advocates are thinking of initiatives as an electoral tool," Wilfore said.

Stateline.org Election Guide 2005

Here's a quick state-by-state rundown of the most important election issues.

Click on each state for a complete list of ballot initiatives and additional links.

California 
All eight initiatives on the California special election ballot failed, including four reform proposals that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) put to voters after the Democrat-controlled Legislature failed to act on them.  The crown jewel of the governor's reform package would have imposed strong new limits on state spending to head off the state's chronic budget shortfalls. Schwarzenegger faced a barrage of attacks from the state's public employee unions, whose powers would have been limited by two of the ballot proposals.

  • Spending cap (62 percent voted no) - would have amended California's Constitution to hold state spending to the previous year's level plus a growth factor
  • State employees - Both backed by Schwarzenegger, one (53.5 percent voted no) would have limited state employee unions' use of membership dues for political purposes; the other (55 percent voted no) would have made it harder for teachers to gain tenure.
  • Redistricting - (60 percent voted no) would have empowered a panel of three retired judges—rather than the Legislature—to draw state legislative and congressional district maps.
  • Prescription drugs - Two competing measures failed. Both would have pushed drug makers to offer discounts for residents who struggle with the costs of prescriptions: One (58.5 percent voted no) was backed by the drug companies and another (61 percent voted no) by consumer groups.

Maine 

Voters upheld a gay rights law passed by the Legislature this year that bans discrimination in housing, employment and education based on sexual orientation, according to  reports from news sources compiling district-by-district voting results. Mainers narrowly struck down similar laws in 1998 and 2000, but reversed course this year and sustained the new law by a 56 to 44 percent margin. Maine is the last of the six New England states to enact such an anti-discrimination measure. Voters also OK'd four of five state spending proposals and a constitutional amendment to aid Maine's commercial fishing industry in the form of tax breaks.  

New Jersey

U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine (D) defeated businessman Doug Forrester (R) 53 percent to 44 percent in a governor's race marked by mudslinging and dominated by concerns over high property taxes and corruption. Corzine succeeds former Gov. Jim McGreevey (D), who resigned last year after admitting to a homosexual affair, leaving in place an acting governor, Senate President Richard Codey (D). To smooth the lines of succession, New Jersey voters also agreed to amend the state Constitution to create the post of lieutenant governor .

All 80 seats in the General Assembly -- now controlled 47 to 33 by Democrats --were up for re-election.

  • Governor's race - Jon Corzine (D) 53 percent vs.  Doug Forrester (R) 44 percent. 
  • Assembly -  80 seats . The Star-Ledger is reporting Democrats picked up at least one seat to bolster their current 47-33 majority.
  • Ballot initiative - Create a lieutenant governor's position. Passed 55.6 percent.
    Ballot initiative - Use state funds to combat air pollution. Passed 55.9 percent.   
  • Ballot initiative - Create a lieutenant governor's position. Passed 55.6 percent.
  • Ballot initiative - Use state funds to combat air pollution. Passed 55.9 percent. 

New York  

Voters rejected one ballot measure  that would have substantially altered the state's budget process, shifting authority from the governor to the Legislature, and approved another that will finance statewide transportation projects.

  • Budget process - Voters rejected the controversial budget proposal-supported by the State Assembly and opposed by Gov. George Pataki and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer -that would have created an Independent Budget Office with members appointed by the Legislature.
  • Transportation - Voters approved a bond issue that allows the state to borrow $2.9 billion to purchase and repair subways, trains, buses, highways and bridges throughout the state. A similar bond measure for $3.9 billion was rejected by voters in 2000.

Ohio 
Advocates failed to win approval for four electoral reforms a year after charges of voting irregularities in the 2004 presidential election. In a year tainted by scandals in Ohio government, including an investment scheme in a rare coin fund, dubbed "Coingate," and Gov. Bob Taft's (R) guilty pleas for not reporting dozens of free golf outings with lobbyists, backers of the election initiatives tried to cast their reforms as a way to clean up Ohio government. They evoked Taft's name and the specter of "corruption" at the Capitol in their TV ads, but their argument never took hold with voters. All four measures lost by as much as a 2-1 margin.

  • Redistricting  (70 percent voted no) - would have taken the power to draw legislative and congressional districts away from a panel of five elected officials and put it in the hands of non-politicians
  • Absentee ballots  (63 percent voted no) - would have let voters cast absentee ballots as early as 35 days before an election without giving a reason
  • Campaign finance  (67 percent voted no) - would have rescinded higher contribution limits passed by legislators last year
  • Elections  (70 percent voted no) - would have created a State Board of Elections to oversee voting, taking the duty away from the secretary of state

Pennsylvania 

Voter wrath over a late-night legislative pay raise unseated one unsuspecting state Supreme Court justice and almost removed another in a statewide election . With 99 percent of precincts reporting, it appears voters refused to award Justice Russell M. Nigro another 10-year term on the bench. A second judge, Sandra Schultz Newman, barely won. The justices got caught up in voter backlash, led by groups such as  PACleanSweep , that is aimed at the Legislature, but there were no legislative races this year. Lawmakers have retreated and are on the verge of repealing the pay raises they approved for the Legislature, state judges and Gov. Ed Rendell (D).   

Texas 

Texas voters overwhelmingly approved making the state the 19th to write a ban against same-sex marriage into the state Constitution. The amendment, approved by 76 percent of voters, duplicates existing state law banning same-sex marriage and follows similar votes in Kansas last April and 13 states in 2004. Voters rejected two of eight other amendments placed on the ballot by the Legislature.

Virginia 
Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine (D) defeated former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore (R) in the governor's race to succeed popular Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, who was barred by state law from serving another term. The campaign turned on a variety of issues: last year's tax increase, traffic congestion and the death penalty. Republican state Sen. Bill Bolling edged out former Democratic congresswoman Leslie Byrne to be the state's next lieutenant governor. The race for attorney general remains too close to call, with Republican Bob McDonnell just ahead of Democrat Creigh Deeds, by a 50 to 49.9 margin, according to the State Board of Elections. Republicans lost two seats in the House of Delegates but still will control with a 58-39 edge over Democrats.

  • Governor - Tim Kaine (D) 51 percent, Jerry Kilgore (R) 46 percent, and Russ Potts (I) 2 percent
  • Lieutenant governor - Bill Bolling (R) 50.7 percent vs. Leslie Byrne (D) 49.2 percent
  • Attorney general - (Too close to call) Bob McDonnell (R) 50 percent vs. Creigh Deeds (D) 49.9 percent
  • House of Delegates - GOP lost two seats, to retain control with 58; Democrats gained one seat, for a total of 39; independents went from two to three seats. State Republican Party vs State Democratic Party

Washington 
By 63 percent to 37 percent, Washington state voters adopted the nation's broadest statewide smoking ban, outlawing smoking in all public building and workplaces, even private clubs, and prohibiting smoking within 25 feet of the doors, windows or vents of public buildings. Voters also -- by 53 percent to 47 percent -- refused to throw out a 9.5-cent-per-gallon increase in the state's gasoline tax approved by the Legislature this year with the backing of Gov. Christine Gregoire (D).

  • Gas tax repeal (53 percent voted no) - would have reversed the Legislature's 9.5 cent gas-tax increase
  • Medical malpractice - One measure (59 percent voted no) would have set up a state insurance fund for the most expensive cases and revoked doctors' licenses if they lost three malpractice claims in one decade; the other  (54 percent voted against) would have limited lawyers' fees and pain and suffering awards for malpractice cases
  • Smoking ban (63 percent approved) - will outlaw smoking in all public buildings and workplaces, with no exceptions for private clubs.