Social Issues Crowd State Ballots

  • July 24, 2008
  • By Pamela M. Prah

Besides electing a president on Nov. 4, voters in some key battleground states also will face divisive social policy choices, including whether to ban gay marriage in Florida and restrict affirmative action and abortion in Colorado.
Michigan voters may be asked to end a 30-year-old ban on stem-cell research that destroys human embryos. Ohioans may decide whether sick workers should be guaranteed paid leave. Missouri voters' attitudes toward immigrants will be tested by a measure to declare English the official state language. In Washington, voters may get to weigh whether to join Oregon in legalizing assisted suicide for the terminally ill.
While the race between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama will be the headline event this fall, more than 90 statewide ballot questions will compete for voters' attention in some 27 states. As many as 60 more measures still could be added to ballots in an election that also features contests for Congress, 11 governors' posts and legislative seats in 44 states.
So far, there is no single issue dominating statewide ballots, unlike in 2004 when gay marriage bans were voted on in 11 states, or in 2006, when minimum wage was on six state ballots and property rights on 12.
Among social issues, more proposals that would appeal to conservative voters than to liberals are showing up in 2008. But there is no consensus on whether ballot measures tend to drive enough voters to the polls to give an advantage to a presidential candidate.
“The real game is the presidential election,” insists Daniel A. Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville who has studied ballot measures. “It's hard to imagine a ballot question would move voters in such a high-information, high-import election such as this one,” he said.

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