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US to vote on pot, gay marriage, president

24 October 2012, 12:25

Chicago - From legalising pot and gay marriage to wiping outdated segregation laws off Alabama's state constitution, US voters have a lot more to decide next month than simply picking the next president.

Voters in 27 states will face 172 different state-wide measures and scores of local initiatives when they cast ballots in the 6 November election.

Many of the measures were designed in hopes of boosting turnout by firing up supporters or drawing people to the polls who might not be motivated by more mundane political issues.

That could make a real difference in a very tight race for the White House.

"Having a measure on the ballot increases turnout by a few points because it gets people more engaged in the issues and gets them to come out and vote," said Jennie Drage Bowser, who analyses ballot measures at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"What's not clear is that a conservative measure could get more conservative voters out or a liberal measure could get more liberal voters out. But that doesn't stop people from trying," she added.

Undermining Obamacare

The key swing state of Florida - which handed President George W Bush victory over Al Gore with just a few thousand votes in 2000 - has a number of measures on the ballot aimed at stirring up conservative voters.

They include efforts to ban public expenditure on abortion or any health care plans which cover abortion; a 'religious freedom' amendment which would eliminate a ban on using state revenues to help religious groups; and a measure to undermine a key component of President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare reform.

Four other states are considering measures to undermine Obamacare, including the swing state of Missouri.

Democrats in battleground Ohio are hoping to use a ballot measure aimed at establishing an independent commission to redraw legislative maps so as to regain some of the districts lost in a plan passed by the Republican-led legislature.

The young voters who helped propel Obama to victory in 2008 may get fired up in Colorado, yet another swing state, by a measure to legalise marijuana. Polls show it stands a good chance of passing.

Oregon and Washington also have proposals to legalise pot, while Montana and Arkansas voters will consider efforts to allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

Gay marriage front

Union members, who also tend to support Democrats, are expected to turn out in Michigan in support of an initiative to make collective bargaining a constitutionally guaranteed right.

But the biggest news may come on the gay marriage front, Bowser said.

Gay marriage has long been a hot-button issue in the United States. But this year is the first time voters will be asked if they want to approve, rather than ban, legal recognition of same-sex unions.

Voters in Maine are expected to approve a referendum seeking to legalise same-sex marriage just three years after rejecting it in a 53-47% vote to toss out a bill passed by the state legislature.

Polls are also showing supporters could prevail in Maryland and the state of Washington, while it's not clear if efforts to make Minnesota the 31st state to amend its constitution to ban gay marriage will succeed.

California has 11 measures on the ballot, including efforts to repeal the death penalty, require labelling of genetically modified foods, raise taxes to pay for schools and emergency service workers, and restrict unions' ability to engage in political activities.

Sophisticated tools

Meanwhile, Alabama's effort to remove outdated references to segregated schools and repeal a no-longer-enforced poll tax are due in part to a quirk of state law which requires a referendum for any changes to its lengthy constitution.

While the ballot measures are one tool to try to help boost turnout they are far from the most effective, said Michael McDonald, an elections expert at George Mason University.

The campaigns have developed sophisticated tools and enlisted armies of volunteers to track their supporters and reach out to them about the issues they care about the most.

This helps them "really go after those hard to reach voters who are going to need more cajoling and persuasion to vote", McDonald said.



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