Famed cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong is using his star power to encourage fellow Texans to support a ballot measure this November that would secure $3 billion for cancer research in the Lone Star state.
The proposal is one of 38 ballot questions that voters in seven states will take up during this fall's quiet election season - about the same number of measures expected in a year without a presidential race and only three gubernatorial contests. But several will be closely watched and could sway strategies for the 2008 contests.
"The end game is 2008," said Kristin Wilfore, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center , a group that helped lead a national, coordinated effort to get initiatives to increase a state's minimum wage on six ballots in 2006 . All six passed.
Utahans, for example, will decide this November if they want to launch the nation's broadest statewide program to provide tax-funded vouchers to pay for private schools. If approved, it could give momentum to school voucher advocates who have seen their efforts at the ballot box fail in recent years. Voucher programs were defeated in both California and Michigan in 2000, the last time voters weighed in on the issue.
Texas is once again living up to its motto that everything indeed is bigger, having the longest list of statewide measures for voters to consider this fall, with 16. Republican Gov. Rick Perry has championed the $3 billion, 10-year bond proposal as a way to make the state a leader in cancer research (Click here for a podcast of Armstrong discussing the ballot measure)
Texas voters also will decide if the state should issue $5 billion in bonds for highway projects and another $1 billion in bonds for maintenance, repair and construction projects.
Many are watching Oregon this year, where voters will decide if they want to scale back an initiative voters there approved in 2004 that made Oregon a model for property rights advocates. The 2004 measure requires state and local governments to compensate land owners if land-use restrictions lower their property values - and if the government can't pay, to allow the owners to essentially develop their land as they see fit.
In the 2006 elections, California, Washington and Idaho voters all rejected measures similar to Oregon's 2004 example while Arizona approved a version of it. This year's Oregon measure would put some restrictions on what property owners can do, for example, limiting large subdivisions and commercial development projects on land reserved for residential and farm use.
Other high-profile 2007 measures include:
- Health care: Oregon's current $1.18 state tax on cigarettes would increase by 84.5 cents, with the new money used to pay for health care for uninsured children and low-income adults.
- Stem cell research: New Jersey voters will decide if the Garden State should spend $450 million on stem cell research.
- Insurance: In a referendum that pits insurers against trial lawyers, Washingtonians will give a thumbs up or down to a law the Legislature passed this year that would allow consumers to collect triple damages if their insurer unreasonably denies a clam. The measure would not apply to health insurance coverage.
- Gambling: Maine voters will weigh in whether they want an American Indian tribe to run a harness-racing track with slot machines and high-stakes beano games in Washington County
- Taxes: Voters in Washington state or the Legislature would have to give two-thirds approval before a tax hike could take effect under an initiative there.
Not all measures show up on general Election Day ballots. Alabama voters, for example, approved a June 5 statewide referendum to spend $400 million in incentives to lure a German steel mill to the state. And voters in Louisiana will take up four constitutional amendments during the Oct. 20 primary day when they also go to the polls to pick the nominees for governor. Two of the measures affect salaries for police officer; another focuses on the administration of state and city retirement benefits and another would exempt jewelry from property taxes.
Jennifer Drage Bowser, an elections expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures, s aid the jury is still out whether ballot measures increase voter turnout. "It's questionable, but it doesn't stop people from trying." Liberal groups used the minimum wage in 2006 in the same way conservatives used bans on gay marriage in 2004 and again in 2006: to bring voters to the polls to pull the lever not just for their initiative, but also for their candidates.
Looking ahead to 2008
The number of citizen initiatives in 2006 was the third-highest in 100 years and 2008 could provide even more. Already nearly a dozen measures have cleared the legal hurdles and are slated to appear on ballots in 2008, said Bowser of NCSL, which has an online database of state ballot measures going back to 1911.
Voters in Arkansas and California in 2008, for example, are expected to take up whether to change term limits for state politicians. Maine voters will take up the question this fall.
An important California initiative that could change the way presidents are elected is gathering steam and could end up on the June 2008 ballot. The proposal would change California's winner-take-all system of awarding its 55 electoral votes in a presidential election. Instead electoral votes would be awarded based on which candidates win the state's congressional districts.
Republicans are pushing the measure, thinking it would help the party's presidential candidate in a state that has voted for the Democratic White House candidate in the last four elections. Supporters are still working on gathering signatures and other requirements to qualify for the ballot
In 2008, experts also expect explosive topics such as immigration to turn up on more ballots. And even though anti-tax activists lost campaigns in 2006 to impose limits on state spending in Maine, Nebraska and Oregon, few expect that issue to die in 2008.