Marijuana on the ballot in California (Tony Avelar/CSM/Newscom)

Drastic measures

Politics | Election Day isn't only about the candidates; voters in several states will also decide the outcome of contentious ballot proposals

Issue: "At the wire," Nov. 6, 2010

When a San Francisco reporter asked John Burton what would motivate crowds of young Obama supporters to return to the polls for midterm elections, the chairman of the California Democratic Party offered a blunt response: "Pot." Burton was referring to Proposition 19-California's ballot initiative to legalize the possession and cultivation of marijuana. The state legalized marijuana for medical use in 1996. The current measure would legalize commercial sales of the drug, though federal law prohibits the practice.

The California initiative is one of 155 ballot measures facing voters in 36 states in November. While the measures address local concerns like state bonds and hunting regulations, some carry national significance and reflect broader debates shaping elections this fall.


While California considers retail sales of marijuana, three states are considering medical use of the drug: Ballot measures in Arizona and South Dakota would legalize medicinal use of marijuana. Oregon already allows marijuana use for ­medical purposes but doesn't allow citizens to buy it. A ballot measure would allow medical sales of the drug.


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In the only abortion-related ballot measure this fall, Colorado voters will decide whether to apply the term person to an unborn child. The measure would amend the state constitution to render "inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of law to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being."

Fiscal policy

A trio of Colorado initiatives would cut automobile and telecommunications taxes, and severely restrict state and municipal borrowing. Supporters say the proposals would protect the state from excessive debt. Opponents-including some conservatives-call the measures fiscal suicide. Washington is considering the opposite: A ballot measure would establish the state's first income tax. The tax would affect individuals earning more than $200,000 and would help pay for education and health programs. Opponents say it would hurt small business owners. A Florida ballot measure asks residents to evaluate the U.S. Constitution: The non-binding straw poll asks voters whether the Constitution should be "amended to require a balanced federal budget without raising taxes."


Three states-Oklahoma, Arizona, and Colorado-have ­measures aimed at thwarting President Obama's healthcare overhaul. If passed, the ballot measures would prohibit requiring citizens to participate in a health insurance program and would bolster protections for private health systems.

Hot buttons

Two ballot measures in Florida would create new guidelines for re-drawing congressional districts ahead of the contentious process next year. The measures would seek to create districts that are as compact and contiguous as possible. Democratic groups are heavily funding the measures that opponents say would cause dramatic confusion. An Arizona measure would eliminate affirmative action programs. Oklahoma is considering a measure to recognize English as the state's official language. A separate Oklahoma measure calls for forbidding courts from considering Islamic law when deciding cases-another issue resonating in national debates.

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the political beat and other topics as national editor for WORLD Magazine. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.


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