NYT analyzes the angles for ballot initiatives

by on August 11, 2008  •  In Elections, Marriage, Race, Reproductive rights

[See my earlier posts here and here for more about substance] 

Social Initiatives on State Ballots Could Draw Attention to Presidential Race – NYTimes.com


Divisive social issues will be on the ballot in several states in November, including constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage in Arizona, California and Florida, and limitations on abortion in California, Colorado and South Dakota.

Although research indicates that ballot measures do not drastically alter voter turnout, they have begun attracting the attention of both presidential campaigns.

Unlike 2004, when same-sex marriage bans were considered in 11 states, no single issue will dominate statewide ballots.

… Jennie Drage Bowser, a policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures…. said that many of the social measures on the ballots are being pushed by evangelical groups that hope to force Senator John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, to pay closer attention to their agenda.

On the ballots are at least 108 measures, down from 204 in 2006. At least 30 measures may be added as signatures are verified….

In Arizona, California and Florida, advocates hope to amend the state constitutions and define marriage as solely between one man and one woman. Similar amendments have been passed by 27 states.

Mr. McCain has endorsed the proposal. Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the presumptive Democratic nominee, who previously said same-sex marriage should be left up to the states, has said he opposes the ban….

“California’s measure is distinctly important because the movement to legalize gay marriage thus far has been driven by the courts,” said John G. Matsusaka, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California. “If California voters reject the amendment banning gay marriage, it will be the first significant popular affirmation of gay marriage.”

Abortion will be a ballot issue in California, Colorado and South Dakota.

South Dakota voters will consider a ban on abortion except in cases of rape, incest or threats to a woman’s health. The proposal would give the state one of the strictest bans in the country, and it would almost certainly lead to a challenge in the courts.

California will vote for the third time on a parental notification measure.

Colorado voters will be asked whether to define a “person” as “any human being from the moment of fertilization.” The proposal is the first in nation to put the question of when life begins before voters.

Groups including National Right to Life and Focus on the Family are opposed to the Colorado initiative, arguing that the timing and language are not right.

A memorandum circulated among activists and lawmakers last year by the Indiana law firm Bopp, Coleson & Bostrom, which is closely associated with the National Right to Life Committee, argued that now is not the time to promote such “personhood” measures because they will fail in the courts.

“They also run the risk of taking much-needed resources and attention away from other types of laws that could protect women and their unborn children immediately,” said Clarke D. Forsythe, president of Americans United for Life.

Kristina Wilfore, the executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a liberal-leaning policy group in Washington, said the lack of unity and focus among conservatives this year on measures like Colorado’s may put Mr. McCain in a difficult position, forcing him to choose sides.

Three states are expected to consider banning affirmative action. Colorado has a proposal on the ballot, and Arizona and Nebraska may soon follow suit. Similar measures have been passed in California, Michigan and Washington.

As the first black presidential candidate to lead a major party ticket, Mr. Obama has cast himself as being able to move beyond racial divisions, but those divisions are likely to take on increasing significance as both candidates confront the affirmative action measures.

The debate, in fact, has already begun. Asked about affirmative action last week, Mr. McCain said he supported a ban, even though in 1998 he opposed a similar measure, calling it “divisive.” Mr. Obama opposes the bans….

In Nebraska, a radio advertisement favoring the ban was broadcast this month and featured a clip from an inflammatory speech by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Mr. Obama’s former pastor. “Colorblind government,” the advertisement said, is the best way to “reject the politics of race and hate.”…


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