Renewable energy debuts on ballots

— -- Renewable energy is one of the top issues facing voters Tuesday, along with ballot proposals that would ban abortion, legalize marijuana, protect farm animals, end affirmative action and use gambling to fund education.

Three states — California, Colorado and Missouri — have measures on their ballots that deal with alternative energy sources, including wind and solar power. "This is a fairly new issue to the ballot," says Jennie Drage Bowser, who has been tracking ballot measures for more than a decade at the National Conference of State Legislatures. "It's a direct response to the demand for energy independence and the rising cost of energy."

Also new, she says, are a measure in South Dakota that would repeal eight-year term limits on state lawmakers and one in Colorado that would criminalize abortion by defining a person as "any human being from the moment of fertilization."

Californians will consider animal rights. An initiative there would require farms to give egg-laying hens, calves and pregnant pigs room to turn around, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. Florida passed a similar measure in 2002 that protected only pregnant pigs, and Arizona approved one in 2006 that covered pigs and calves.

On Tuesday, voters in 36 states will consider 153 ballot measures. Most are referendums placed on the ballot by legislatures; 59 are grass-roots initiatives that needed tens of thousands of signatures to qualify. Many citizen initiatives are controversial, and fewer than half have passed in the past decade. Three of every four referred by legislatures succeeded.

None of the measures deals directly with the housing crisis, which has deepened in recent months. "There's such a lag time" between when a measure is launched and when it qualifies, says law professor Kareem Crayton of the University of Southern California's Initiative and Referendum Institute. Also, he says, "there's not a lot local and state governments can do about it."

Even so, the economic downturn will hover over the elections, Bowser says. "Voters are going to approach a lot, if not all, ballot measures with this question: Can we afford it?"

Among measures on ballots:

• Renewable energy — three states.

Missouri's initiative would require investor-owned utilities to buy or produce 15% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. It has broad support and no organized opposition.

An initiative in California that would require utilities to get half their power from renewable resources by 2025, setting the toughest standard in the nation, has drawn much opposition. Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, and both political parties say it has too many loopholes.

Another California proposal would authorize $5 billion in bonds to give rebates for alternative-fuel vehicles and to promote renewable energy.

A measure in Colorado would increase taxes on the oil and gas industry and use 10% of the revenue to promote energy efficiency and renewable sources. The oil and gas industry opposes it.

• Abortion — three states.

In Colorado, "Abortion will be unconstitutional" if voters approve the measure defining life, says Bob Enyart, spokesman for Colorado Right to Life, which backs the proposal. "It's a backdoor approach to banning abortion," says Ted Miller, spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice America, which opposes it. He says it also would halt research on human embryonic stem cells.

On the ballot in South Dakota is a ban on abortion, except if a woman was raped or her health is in danger. In 2006, voters rejected a ban.

In California, a proposal would require parental notification before a minor could have an abortion. Such a measure failed in 2006.

• Marijuana — three states.

California and Massachusetts will vote on decriminalizing the possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana.

In Michigan, voters will decide whether to join a dozen states that allow medical marijuana. Its measure would allow residents to cultivate marijuana plants and use the drug, under a doctor's approval, to treat pain from cancer and other diseases.

• Gambling — eight states.

Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland and Missouri have measures that would use a state lottery, extended casino hours, slot machines or higher casino taxes to fund education.

An Oregon measure would dedicate 15% of lottery revenue to crime prevention, investigation and prosecution. In Ohio, one would give revenue from a new casino to counties.

The Massachusetts ballot has a ban on commercial dog racing. Maine has an initiative to allow a new casino.

"In hard economic times, gaming measures do better," says Kristina Wilfore of Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a group backing what it considers "progressive" proposals.

• Affirmative action — two states.

Colorado and Nebraska have proposals to end affirmative action. Similar measures have passed in California, Washington and Michigan.

With two women, Republican Gov. Sarah Palin and Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and an African American, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, playing big roles in the presidential race, voters may question the need for affirmative action, Crayton says.

Information on all ballot measures at