Voters to Decide Hot-Button Ballot Issues

From abortion to gay marriage, 35 states to weigh in on more than 150 measures.

Oct. 30, 2008— -- From abortion to affirmative action to gay marriage, more than 150 hot-button social issues will be on the ballot in 35 states this Election Day.

Whether named a ballot measure, ballot initiative, proposition or referendum, the collective legislation puts state or local policy decisions in the hands of pencil-wielding or touch-screen-pushing voters.


One state could set up the Supreme Court to revisit the landmark Roe v. Wade decision if its abortion initiative passes.

If passed, the South Dakota measure, Initiative Measure 11, would prohibit all abortions, except in cases where the procedure would prevent the death or serious health risk to the mother, or in cases of rape or incest.

In 2006, South Dakota voters rejected a similar measure that did not include provisions for victims of rape or incest, or for the health of the mother. This year's attempt spells out exceptions to address those issues.

For the health of the mother, a physician would need to make the determination that an abortion is medically necessary because of "serious risk of a substantial and irreversible impairment of the functioning of a major bodily organ or system" of the woman.

In cases of rape or incest, the mother would need to identify the violator and take a DNA test to prove it is his child.

Abortion is also on the ballot in California and Colorado. California's Proposition 4 would require parental notification for abortions for minors. In Colorado, Amendment 48 will would define the term "person" to include a human egg at the moment of fertilization.

Gay Marriage, Adoption

Gay marriage is the big issue in California. If the state's Proposition 8 passes, California would amend its constitution to specify that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized.

Earlier this year the state's Supreme Court overturned a 2000 gay marriage initiative. That decision allowed thousands of gays and lesbians to be legally married in that state.

The latest polls show the vote tilting towards entering a ban on same sex marriage into the California constitution. But if the measure passes, it's unclear what implications it might have for those couples married since the high court's earlier decision.

Other states with gay marriage ballots are Arizona and Florida. Arizona's Proposition 102 would amend that state's constitution to specify that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage; Florida's Amendment 2 seeks to ban marriages or other legal unions not between one man and one woman.

Gay marriage could also become an issue in Connecticut, which just saw its civil union law overturned earlier this month, paving the way for same-sex marriages to begin in that state same-sex marriages to begin in that state before the end of the year.

But there is a ballot initiative on the Connecticut ballot that would determine whether to seat a constitutional convention, which is needed to make any change to the state's constitution.

In Arkansas, residents will take up a measure aimed at preventing gay couples from adopting children. The measure, Proposed Initiative Act 1, goes further than just barring same-sex couples from adopting -- it bars any individual cohabitating outside of a valid marriage from adopting or providing foster care to minors.

Affirmative Action

Affirmative action is being challenged in two states, Colorado and Nebraska. Voters in those states will be asked whether their governments should eliminate policies that give hiring preferences based on race or gender.

If passed, the measures would make exceptions for existing court orders, certain federal programs and other legally binding agreements.

Other Ballot Initiatives

Other measures appearing on ballots this Election Day range from a proposed limit on ballot measures to decriminalizing marijuana. Here are some of the other issues voters are set to decide:

An Arizona ballot measure would require that any new initiative that could raise taxes get approval from a majority of registered voters, not just those who vote. If it passes, it would mean that none of the recent initiatives in that state would have passed.

In California there is a proposal that would require cows, pigs, chickens and other farm animals to "be allowed, for the majority of the day, to fully extend their limbs or wings, lie down, stand up and turn around." The proposal, an attempt to treat farm animals humanely, would be costly for farmers. Even with a strong lobby from California's farmers, it is expected to pass overwhelmingly.

In South Carolina an initiative to amend its constitution to delete the provision that no unmarried women shall legally consent to sexual intercourse who have not reached the age of 14.

In Massachusetts, a proposed law would replace the criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana with a new system of civil penalties, to be enforced by issuing citations. It would exclude information regarding this civil offense from the state's criminal record information system.

Washington's Initiative 100 would allow terminally ill adults to obtain lethal prescriptions. Three other states in recent years -- Maine, Michigan and California -- have rejected similar measures.