Who Gets High, Who Dies and Who Marries: 6 Top Votes to Watch on Tuesday

State-by-state social justice ballot measures can determine the direction our country is headed. Here’s where we might be moving.
There are 176 questions on the ballot in 38 states on November 6, according to Ballotpedia.org, a nonpartisan encyclopedic website. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)
Nov 5, 2012· 5 MIN READ
is a Los Angeles-based writer whose work has appeared Atlantic, Back Stage, The Christian Science Monitor and The Hill.

If the media consensus is to be believed, 49 states in the union don’t need to worry about the race between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. That one’s going to be decided by Ohioans.

Still, voters in the rest of the country are deciding their share of pressing questions, such as whether or not gays can marry, adults can smoke pot, the children of undocumented immigrants can receive in-state tuition or whether solar power deserves tax-payer funding.

Here are six ballot initiatives from around the country that could shape the future of America—and the TakePart take on their chances for passing.

MORE: The Gay Marriage Price Tag: $30 Million for Four States, and Not Even Brad Pitt Can Guarantee a Win

LGBT Rights

Marriage equality is on the ballot in Maine, Maryland and Washington State. LGBT activist are also trying to stop a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage from passing in Minnesota. Polls show tight races across the four states, and activists who have been in the trenches on this issue have some trepidation about Tuesday.

That’s because the LGBT community is batting .000 when it comes to referenda related to its civil rights.

Now, there have been victories for marriage equality in recent years—New York being a prime example—but those have come through the legislature. Even in liberal California, a proposition to ban gay marriage passed—the same year President Obama was elected.

The case made against marriage equality has always centered on children, such as what they’ll be taught in school if gay marriage is legal. The National Organization for Marriage and its chief strategist, Frank Schubert, have been using the same messaging across all four states.

Still, activists are hoping the president coming out in support of same-sex marriage will hold some sway on Tuesday.

“I’m feeling bullish about Tuesday,” Brian Ellner, who led the campaign for marriage equality in New York and is a co-founder of The Four, tells TakePart. “My feeling is that we’re going to have a win, and hopefully we’ll have multiple wins.”

The TakePart Take: At least a partial victory is likely on Tuesday, especially with the robust efforts being waged in Washington State and Maine, which came close to voting for marriage equality two years ago.

Renewables Funding

Clean energy isn’t a term that got thrown around much this election cycle—at least outside of Michigan where the state’s push to diversify its power supply to include eco-friendly sources has seen some high-profile support.

Proposal 3, also known as 25 by 25, would change the states constitution to mandate that wind, solar, biomass and hydropower are 25 percent of its power supply by 2025. Moreover, Proposal 3 would encourage the use of Michigan-made equipment in the switch and limit to not more than 1 percent per “year electric utility rate increases charged to consumers only to achieve compliance with the renewable energy standard.”

Former President Bill Clinton called the measure the “best opportunity this year to jumpstart the state’s economy.”

“Proposal 3 invests in Michigan’s future so that it won’t get left behind by the 30 other states that are already creating new clean energy jobs and lowering consumers’ electricity costs,” Clinton said in a recent statement. “That’s why I’m so proud to endorse Proposal 3.”

Opponents of the proposal are zeroing in on its total cost (roughly $12 billion) and associated tax increase—it’ll raise the average consumer’s power bill by about an estimated 50 cents per month. These potential costs have caused support to wane. A recent poll found only 35 percent of respondents planned to support the measure.

“I don't think it will pass,” Bill Nowling, a Michigan-based campaign and PR consultant, tells TakePart. “Public sentiment had been trending ‘no’ on all the ballot proposals, including this one.”

The TakePart Take: This proposal seems doomed, but a strong showing could give organizers hope of a second try.

The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012 would put neighboring states and the federal government in an awkward position on enforcement of existing drug laws.

Death Penalty Abolition

California voters will have to make a life-or-death decision on Tuesday. They’ll be deciding on Proposition 34, known formally as the “Death Penalty Initiative Statute,” which would repeal the death penalty in the Golden State and replace it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

Proposition 34 would apply retroactively to those already on California’s Death Row. Moreover, it would require convicted murderers to work while in prison and pay the money earned toward fines or victim restitution. The measure also directs $100 million of the state budget—the amount projected to be saved by the elimination of Death Row—to law enforcement agencies for investigations of homicide and rape case.

Support for the measure, which has been billed as a cost-saver as well as a way to save innocents from capital punishment, has been building steadily. A Field Poll released on Friday found support had increased by four points to 45 percent in favor while 38 percent opposed the measure and about 20 percent are undecided.

“They have a chance. It looks better than a few weeks ago because it’s trending in their direction,” Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo told reporters. Still, the conventional wisdom is that undecideds vote in favor of “no" because they haven't learned enough about the proposition to support it.

The TakePart Take: Too close to call. Even if the initiative fails, it shows momentum has swung toward criminal justice reform in the United States.

Immigration Reform

The plight of America’s millions of undocumented immigrants and their children has been sporadically addressed during the 2012 campaign. Needless to say, no consensus has been reached. With Congress stalled on immigration reform, some states have taken matters into their own hands.

Maryland, for instance, passed a law last year (the Maryland Dream Act) that provided in-state college tuition to students who were brought to America in their childhood, have been here for at least three years, graduate from a state high school and whose parents pay their taxes. Republicans opposed the law, however, and used a petition drive to test it on the ballot by a popular vote. Polls have shown a wide lead for the “yes to the Dream” side.

Meanwhile, Montana is looking to join the long list of states that have cracked down on undocumented immigrants. Republican lawmakers in big sky country have placed Legislative Referendum 121 on the ballot, which would require proof of U.S. citizenship to receive state services.

State Representative David Howard, the Republican who pushed to place the measure on the ballot, said proof of citizenship is necessary because Montana could be spending an “untold number of taxpayer dollars providing services to undocumented aliens.” That said, estimates put the undocumented population of Montana at around 5,000 in an expansive state of about 1 million people.

The TakePart Take: Immigration reform advocates are likely to receive a mixed bag of results on Tuesday. One thing is clear: More states will be taking this issue into their own hands, for better or worse.

Marijuana Access

Sure, the effort to roll back the criminalization of marijuana use is ongoing in states like California. But pot-use advocates aren’t looking to puff on their laurels. They’ve managed to place restriction-lifting measures on the ballot in six states. On Tuesday, voters will decide on measures ranging from allowing medicinal marijuana use in Arkansas, Montana and Massachusetts to a vote on whether to legalize or de-penalize the adult use of cannabis in four Michigan cities.

Meanwhile, Oregon, Washington State and Colorado are voting on whether to legalize possession and use of pot for adults. Colorado’s is perhaps the most progressive—and controversial—of the marijuana ballot questions. Proposition 64, also known as “The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012,” would amend the state constitution to allow those 21 and over to buy or possess up to an ounce of marijuana. The amendment also would allow for cultivation, product-manufacturing and testing facilities and retail pot shops. The “yes” campaign has focused its message on the “safer communities” that would result if the measure passed.

A recent survey had support for the Colorado measure at 53 percent.

The TakePart Take: Washington State and Colorado are the likeliest places for marijuana advocates to score a victory on Tuesday. The Colorado measure could have the widest impact if it passes. The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012 would put neighboring states and the federal government in an awkward position on enforcement of existing drug laws.

Genetically Modified Food Labeling

Proposition 37 was once coasting to passage. The California initiative, which would require producers to label genetically modified food (GMOs), was billed by supporters as a common-sense way for consumers to know what they’re eating. But support has collapsed in the face of a $48 million ad campaign funded by the biotech, grocery and agricultural industries that claimed it would lead to “more bureaucracy and red tape,” lawsuits and higher food costs.

Even with a late push by Whole Foods Co-CEO Walter Robb and other supporters, Prop. 37 is looking at a stacked deck.

The TakePart Take: Proposition 37 is being set up to fail, but raised the issue of clear labeling on food products to its highest awareness to date.

What state initiative around the country to you most want to see passed or stopped? Leave the whys in COMMENTS.