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Referenda

2004 Vote | Voters this year are faced with a bewildering variety of state constitutional questions

Issue: "2004 Election: Clinch time," Oct. 30, 2004

Marriage, marijuana, and the minimum wage. Or maybe gays, gambling, and game. However you look at it, voters this year are faced with a bewildering variety of state constitutional questions. In Florida alone, voters will wade through eight different amendments ranging from slot machines to high-speed rail.

Ballot initiatives have exploded in recent years as state legislators-wary of casting votes on controversial tax increases or divisive social issues-have essentially decided to "punt," allowing voters to decide for themselves at the ballot box.

Other issues, including same-sex marriage, find their way onto the statewide ballot for reasons that are more practical than pragmatic. Responding to the liberal mantra that marriage should be decided at the state level, family activists across the country pushed for state constitutional amendments to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. With broad popular support, such measures would likely have passed as simple statutes, but enshrining them in state constitutions may provide extra protection against being forced to recognize court-made unions from states such as Massachusetts.

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Here's a review of some of the top issues facing voters across the country.

Definition of marriage

The most common proposal on state ballots this year would amend state constitutions to ban same-sex marriages. Eleven states-Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Utah-will ask voters to decide whether marriage should be defined as being between a man and a woman.

Gambling

Six states will vote on 13 different measures regarding this hot-button issue. Oklahoma voters will decide whether to establish a state lottery, while Nebraska voters consider whether to allow casinos. California, Oklahoma, and Washington will determine whether American Indian gambling ventures can expand. Florida voters will decide whether to allow slot machines in two southeastern counties, while a measure in Michigan would require popular approval before any new gaming is allowed.

Marijuana

Voters in Montana, Oregon, and Arkansas will vote on legalizing marijuana for medical use. Alaska's Measure 2 seeks to protect doctors who prescribe medical marijuana, but it also goes several steps further, legalizing the use, possession, and distribution of marijuana for residents over the age of 21. Although Alaskans are already allowed to possess small amounts of the drug in their homes-a right granted by a state Supreme Court ruling in 1975-if passed, this more sweeping measure would conflict with federal law.

Minimum wage

Florida and Nevada are asking voters to approve a dollar increase in the minimum wage, to total $6.15 an hour.

Abortion

Although this election is relatively quiet on the abortion front, Florida has included a measure to require parental notification for minors seeking abortions.

Medical malpractice

Two Florida measures seek to limit attorney fees in medical malpractice cases and to repeal the licenses of doctors found guilty of committing malpractice three times. Medical malpractice limits are also going to the voters in Nevada, Oregon, and Wyoming.

Hunting Rights

Hunters in Montana and Louisiana will vote on whether to establish a constitutional right to hunt, fish, and trap within legal bounds.

Sales tax

A Washington initiative supporting the "Education Trust Fund"-intended to improve education and increase teacher pay-will ask voters to agree to a 1 percent sales-tax increase. If approved, the state's sales tax would become the highest in the country at 7.5 percent and education spending would increase by about $1 billion per year.

Stem-Cell Research

California's controversial Proposition 71 would not only establish a constitutional right to conduct research on embryonic stem cells, but it would also fund that research with tax dollars. The $3 billion bond issue for stem-cell research would be the largest ever authorized by a voter initiative.

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