Property Rights a Popular Question on Ballots
By Pamela M. Prah, Staff Writer
Property rights is the hottest new topic on state ballots this election year, cropping up in 13 states, while same-sex marriage bans and minimum-wage increases also will compete for voters' attention in multiple states on Nov. 7.
Among the 36 states to certify more than 200 statewide ballot measures this fall, Arizona will have the heftiest ballot — with 19 ballot questions. Same-sex marriage bans will appear in eight states, and minimum-wage hikes in six.
Following Arizona, with 19 measures, the next longest list of ballot questions will be in Colorado (with 14 measures), California (13), South Dakota (11) and Oregon (10). Louisiana voters will weigh in on 13 ballot issues in the Sept. 13 primary and another eight in November.
The number of ballot questions this year is the highest since 1996, said Jennifer Drage Bowser, who specializes in ballot measure issues for the National Conference of State Legislatures, which maintains a searchable database that tracks ballot measures back to 1912.
This election will give voters their first chance to roll back a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on property rights. Voters in 13 states will decide whether local governments can seize private property for redevelopment, a power known as eminent domain: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina and Washington.
Other popular issues on statewide ballots this fall are:
- Same-sex marriage bans (eight states): Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. Colorado voters also will be asked in a separate initiative to extend marital rights to same-sex couples through "domestic partnerships."
- Minimum-wage hikes (six states): Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Missouri, Nevada and Ohio
- Gambling (five states): Arkansas, Nebraska, Ohio, Rhode Island and South Dakota
- Taxes : Voters in Maine, Nebraska and Oregon will consider state spending caps modeled after Colorado's Taxpayers' Bill of Rights (TABOR), which is temporarily suspended, while TABOR-like measures were taken off the ballot in Oklahoma and Nevada because of legal problems. South Carolina and South Dakota have measures limiting the growth of property-tax assessments.
Explosive social issues also will be decided in a handful of states. In South Dakota, voters will decide whether to overturn the nation's strictest ban on abortions enacted by the South Dakota Legislature earlier this year. If the new law stands, it sets the stage for a direct challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that gave women the right to terminate a pregnancy.
Other states with measures of national interest:
- Affirmative action - Michigan voters will decide whether to prohibit state government and public universities from discriminating for or against individuals on the basis of race.
- Immigration - Arizona voters will consider limiting certain rights and benefits of illegal aliens, while Colorado voters will be asked whether employers should be barred from deducting the wages of illegal immigrants as an expense.
- Death penalty - Wisconsin voters will consider whether the death penalty should be reinstated, although the measure is non-binding
- Stem cell - Missouri voters will face a measure that seeks to legalize stem-cell research.
California voters will consider "only" 13 propositions this year, down from the historical average of 18 in even-numbered years, said John G. Matsusaka, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute of the University of Southern California. But he said those measures propose spending close to $50 billion total, almost all of it with borrowed money. Five bond issues would authorize the state to borrow $43 billion, dedicated for highways, roads, school buildings, water projects and low-income housing.
The ballot measure process itself is on the ballot in two states. A measure in Colorado would make it easier to get citizens' initiatives on the ballot, and a measure in Florida would make it harder for an initiative to pass, requiring 60 percent approval, rather than a simple majority.
The exact tally of ballot measures still may change before Election Day, because some proposals still await certification by state election officials and court challenges are possible. S tateline.org will update the guide weekly. The guide includes both citizens' initiatives, allowed in 24 states, and ballot measures referred by state legislatures.
Statewide ballot measures are just part of Stateline.org's online Elections Guide, which also includes lists of candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state, along with current political makeup of statehouses. Upcoming additions include profiles of the gubernatorial races in 36 states.